Italian Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) took a spectacular and well-deserved victory in the Tour of Flanders when he just outsprinted Leif Hoste of Belgium (Predictor-Lotto) with a late lunge to the line.
Ballan launched an all-out attack on the legendry Muur du Grammont and went clear by the summit, just 16 kilometres from the line. Hoste joined him shortly afterwards and despite having a minimal lead over a group of disorganised chasers, they both believed in the attack and managed to stay away to the finish.
In the finishing straight, Hoste jumped first and overtook Ballan and seemed to have won, but then at the last possible moment, the lanky Italian just inched past to win his first major classic. For Hoste it was his third runners-up spot in Flanders since 2004.
?It was a very tight sprint, but I got it.? Ballan, who has already taken the Three Days of La Panne this week, said after being mobbed at the finish.
?Thank goodness I had a bit of gas left in the tank, but that was a very close-run thing. Hoste really wanted to win because he?s a Belgian on a Belgian team, so we worked well together when we got away. We took a risk in the final kilometre because the chasers weren?t far behind but then I tried to catch my breath for the sprint. Hoste jumped hard and that?s why I struggled to get on his wheel but then I pulled out something I didn?t have and just got past him on the line.?
?I want to dedicate this win to my family and father Adone, who died ten years ago. I?m sure he was watching me from above.?
Italy?s Luca Paolini (Liquigas) finished third, leading in a group of chasers at five seconds. Karsten Kroon (CSC) was fourth and Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel) was fifth. Roger Hammond (T-Mobile), David Millar (Saunier Duval) and Steve Cummings (Discovery Channel) did not finish the 259km race.
Tom Boonen was chasing a third consecutive win at the Tour of Flanders and was being cheered on by the whole of Flanders. However, he hurt his wrist in an early crash and was clearly not on great form. He finished out of the top placings and can only hope to do better in Wednesday?s Ghent-Wevelgem and in next Sunday?s Paris-Roubaix.