Tom Boonen (Quick Step) season and career almost ended when he tested positive for cocaine in May but he now seems to have got his career back on track and won the first road race stage of the Eneco Tour on Thursday with his trademark powerful sprint.

Boonen has rightly lost some of his hero status following his still to be explained cocaine positive but he has apologised and paid a hefty fine to his team after he was refused a place in the Tour de France.

Boonen has won stages in the Ster Elektrotoer, the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Wallonie since his positive but stepped up a gear to win the sprint in the Eneco Tour, a ProTour race around Holland and Belgium.

He was given a perfect lead out by his Quick Step team mates and comfortably beat Italians Daniele Bennati (Liquigas) and Fabio Sabatini (Milram) in the Dutch town of Roermond.

Britain?s Roger Hammond (Columbia) was 26th in the same time as Boonen after working for team mate Edvald Boasson Hagen who is third overall. Jeremy Hunt (Credit Agricole) was 35th in the same time.

Spain?s Jose Ivan Gutierrez, winner of Wednesday?s prologue time trial, retained the overall race lead, two seconds ahead of Cyril Lemoine (Credit Agricole).

Boonen has already announced he will quit the Tour of Benelux after Sunday?s stage to prepare for the Vuelta Espana that begins on August 30.

“It?s good to win because it?s never easy to beat riders like Bennati and the others. After winning sprints in the Ster Elektrotoer, the Tour of Austria and the Tour of Wallonie, I?ve been getting stronger and stronger.

Boonen said after his win.

?I?m not worried about the Vuelta because I?m confident about my form and my finishing speed.?

The 173km stage between Beek and Roermond in southern Holland was characterised by a long breakaway by Dutch riders Bram Tankink and Floris Goesinnen. They gained several minutes and Tankink picked up the time bonuses to move up overall but they were quickly caught 11kms from the finish when the peloton began to fight for position.

After some riders ended up on the grass and others fought at the front, the Quick Step team lead out the peloton in the final kilometre and then Boonen accelerated on the right of the road to win by more than a bike length.

Friday?s 173.2km stage two is from Roermond to Nieuwegein in central Holland. Another bunch sprint is expected, although cross winds could be a factor.

imageJose Gutierrez meets the fans

imageGutierrez’s Caisse d’Epargne squad take charge of the peloton

imageTom Boonen back to winning

Photos by Luc Claessen

RELATED LINKS

Gutierrez takes Eneco opener