Ballan Wins Tour of Flanders
Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) has won the Tour of Flanders. The 27-year-old Italian, who demonstrated his readiness for this race by winning Three Days of De Panne earlier in the week, took a two-up sprint from Leif Hoste (Predictor) to win the 259-km race in 6:10:15. Luca Paolini (Liquigas) outsprinted Karsten Kroon (CSC) for third at 0:05.
From the start, the racing was aggressive. After a number of abortive sallies, Jose Vicente Garcia (Caisse d?Epargne), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre), David Boucher (Landbouwkrediet), Maarten Tjallingii (Skil), Laurent Mangel, (Ag2r), Alexander Kuschynski (Liquigas), and Evert Verbist (Chocolade Jacques) escaped. Initially, the septet was unopposed, and its lead ballooned to 13:30 at 135 km.
Quick Step, Rabobank, and Wiesenhof began to chase. T-Mobile and Tinkoff joined the pursuit, and the fugitives? lead shrank to 7:30 by 164 km. Then, a series of crashes occurred, with four CSC riders going down in the first of these. On the Knokteberg (181 km), Erik Zabel (Milram), Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner), and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas) hit the deck. Despite the mayhem, the escapees? advantage was down to 4:50 on the Knokteberg and 4:30 on the Old Kwaremont.
On the Taaienberg, Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) attacked and teammate Tom Boonen followed. The peloton split, with the first group consisting of about 35 riders. Kevin Hulsmans (Quick Step) and Johan Van Summeren (Predictor) attacked, while Paolini crashed. With 54 km remaining, the peloton, which had grown to 65 riders, trailed the seven leaders by 3:22. Hulsmans and Van Summeren were between the two groups.
With 50 km remaining, Fabian Cancellara (CSC) began to drive up the Berendries, and Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) followed. The pair joined the leaders, and Cancellara began to drive that group. Garcia was dropped. With 26 km left, the lead group led the peloton by 0:45.
Predictor, Tinkoff, Discovery Channel, and Lampre chased. Cancellara, the strongest and freshest of the leaders, got no help from his companions. On the Muur-Kapelmuur, the race came together.
Boonen attacked. Daniele Bennati (Lampre), Ballan, and Hoste countered. Ballan surged, and only Hoste could follow. At the summit, the peloton was down to about a dozen riders.
With 10 km remaining, Ballan and Hoste led the peloton by 0:18. Going into the last km, the Italian led, but Hoste surged with 150 m left. Ballan edged the Belgian in the last 10 m.
Many of the riders in the Tour of Flanders will cross swords in Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday and in Paris-Roubaix next Sunday. How will they fare? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!