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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Belgium’s classics king Tom Boonen applauded world champion Peter Sagan’s solo victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen on Sunday. The Tinkoff cyclist is the first since Boonen, in 2006, to win Flanders in the rainbow stripes.
Sagan soloed away from his last rival, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL – Jumbo) on the Paterberg climb at 13.2 kilometers remaining in the 255-kilometer monument. He held off the chase of Vanmarcke and Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) to Oudenaarde and pulled a wheelie to celebrate.
“It’s a massive performance,” Etixx – Quick-Step’s Boonen said after finishing 15th. “It’s beautiful to reach the finish solo as a world champion.”
Boonen is one of six riders with three wins in the Tour of Flanders. He is still chasing top form this season after crashing in the Abu Dhabi Tour and fracturing his skull.
The 35-year-old from Mol and the latest to be called the ‘Lion of Flanders’ by Belgian followers won in 2005, 2006, and 2012. His 2006 title followed his 2005 world championship win in Madrid. Sagan, of course, won the worlds last year in the U.S., in Richmond, Virginia.
With Sagan off to celebrate on the podium, journalists turned to Boonen for insight into the 26-year-old world champion who won only his second race this season after Gent-Wevelgem.
“He doesn’t win so often but when he does, he wins big ones. I respect him a lot and I’m happy that he won today,” Boonen added.
“I was surprised Michal Kwiatkowski just stopped on the Kwaremont the way he did. I expected him to be a possible winner. The way Peter finished it off, though, he’s a deserved winner.”
Belgian’s biggest team came under fire again after it failed in another major classic. Etixx missed the moves in E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Sunday’s Ronde. Insiders say that it is perhaps the strongest team, but without one star rider to finish it off.
Iljo Keisse and Tony Martin hammered on the front of the cobbled sectors and climbs for the early hours of the race and Stijn Vandenbergh escaped with Cannondale’s Dylan Van Baarle. When Kwiatkowski and Sagan shot free with 32.5 kilometers remaining, however, Etixx — and everyone else bar Vanmarcke — were powerless.
“We were attentive there because we were all expecting something to happen, but they just rode away,” Boonen added. “We were riding ourselves into the ground, and we ran out of numbers. ”
Boonen fell early in the race and hurt his wrist. He explained that he worried how serious it was for the rest of the race and that he hopes it does not affect his preparation for the rest of the week ahead of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. He knows the race well, having won it four times, and if he does so again, he would hold the record for five.
“Team tactics play out the most in Roubaix; that can be especially good for our team. We’re not worried,” he said. “We’re doing well. One day, it’ll go in our favor.”