By Kenny Pryde
There was yet another twist in the Eneco Tour as the final stage ended with Rabobank's Lars Boom upsetting the plans of both Orica-GreenEdge and Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
The Dutchman took second on the stage behind Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and won the race overall, having started the day in second place, four seconds off the lead.
Second and third places on GC were taken by Omega Pharma duo Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra, but it was hardly what the Omega team or the fans howling Tom Boonen's name every time the race climbed the Muur of Geraardsbergen were hoping for.
It was another hot day in the Belgium and the hills of Flanders, more used to being raced on in cold, wet Spring, were baking hot on the final stage of the Eneco Tour - a race with the same UCI ranking as Paris-Nice, let us not forget. The Eneco may not have the kudos of the Race to the Sun (Race around the Low Countries doesn't have the same ring), but for teams and riders looking for World Tour points, the Eneco is a serious undertaking.
The finale - a 214km showdown over 13 Flandrian climbs - lived up to its billing, with a nail biting finish and desperate attacks in the final climbs. An early break of nine was held at a manageable distance by a joint effort from Orica and Rabobank (they only ever had a maximum of 2-40) before it was swamped as the race approached the Muur for the second time and 28 kilometers to the finish.
Orica-GreenEdge's overnight race leader Svein Tuft was struggling to stay at the front and was never really in a position to defend his overall lead, finally losing contact on the second of three climbs of the Muur, spending the rest of the race trying to stay in contact. Having slipped back on the climbs, the Canadian clawed his way onto the tail of the lead group, but by then the race was taking definitive shape at the front.
On the final time up the Muur, with all the leaders and potential winners still in the front group of around 40, 2008 World champion Alessandro Ballan (BMC) attacked hard and led past the summit Chapel at the with a few seconds lead. He was chased across the top by Boom and when the two made contact on the descent, with less than five kilometers to the line, the race was run.
With most to gain, Boom did the lion's share of the work, although Ballan contributed, while behind Omega Pharma couldn't muster the firepower to close the gap. With time bonuses on the line (10, 6 and 4 seconds) and Boom only four seconds behind overall, it didn't need much of a gap. In fact, all Boom needed to do was to finish second which is precisely what he did.
The last time a Dutchman won a World Tour race it was another Rabobank rider from another era - Erik Dekker, when this race was called the Tour of in 2000 - so it's been a long time coming. "The plan this morning was to watch to see what Omega and Orica did, to make sure we didn't miss any moves. At the same time we didn't just sit back, we did our share of controlling the breakaway, we had Graeme Brown and Theo Bos on the front for a long time," said Boom later, "we worked hard for the win."
For his part Ballan and the rest of the BMC team was left rueing their team time trial crash which effectively put them all out of the overall running.
"We haven't had a lot of luck as a team this week," said Ballan, enjoying a cold can of Primus in the press room, "so we didn't have anyone for the GC today. That meant it was all about trying to get a stage win with me or Greg (Van Avermaet) today. In the end, Greg rode really hard into the final climb to set me up and that was it. If we hadn't had such a bad team time trial, there would have been three or four of us in the top 10, but... I'm happier with a win than finishing fifth overall, even if it would have been good World Cup points for the team."
And, as a freaky final footnote, there were few who would have predicted that Alberto Contador would have sent his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank riders to the front on the approach to the Leberg climb - but that's what happened. There was even a point at which it looked like Contador, the 62kg Spanish featherweight, would be in at the kill, until Ballan and Boom lit the blue touchpaper.
In any case, Contador's eighth place on the stage (he was sprinting uphill for third) was good enough to see him finish fourth overall. He's going to win the Tour of Spain - you read it here first!
Eneco Tour 2012, stage seven: Maldegem to Geraardsbergen 214km
1. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing in 4-54-16
2. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank at 2sec
3. Fracisco Ventoso (Spa) Movistar at 6sec
4. Nick Nuyens (Bel) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
5. Marco Mercato (Ita) Vacansoleil
6. Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre
7. Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan
8. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
9. Laurens De Vreese (Bel) Topsport Vlaanderen
10. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time
30. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 34secs
35 Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-GreenEdge at 40sec
89. Luke Rowe (GBR) Team Sky at 11-12
90. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at same time
Final overall standings
1. Lars Boom (Rabobank) 1040km in 24-51-13
2. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 26secs
3. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at 49secs
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank at 55 secs
5. Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge at same time
6. Jonathan Castroviejo (Spa) Movistar at 58secs
7. Svein Tuft (Can) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-00
8. Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma at 1-05
9. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-07
10. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan at 1-13
16. Talyor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing at 1-45
82. Luke Rowe (GBr) Team Sky at 13-07
92. Adam Blythe (GBr) BMC Racing at 18-54
Lars Boom wins overall
Tuft wins Eneco Tour time trial
Nizzolo takes surprise win in Eneco Tour stage five
Kittel makes it two at Eneco Tour as Boonen moves into lead
Bos takes Eneco stage three sprint
Contador builds form in Eneco Tour ahead of Vuelta
Contador back from ban in Eneco Tour
How Clay Davies became an accidental figurehead
When Clay Davies become the first openly gay rider in the UK's elite ranks, he suddenly found himself in unfamiliar territory
By Alex Ballinger •
Bahrain Victorious respond after researchers reveal riders at ‘three-week race in France’ had muscle relaxant in their systems
While the research paper doesn’t name the team, riders or race, Bahrain were raided by police at the Tour de France
By Alex Ballinger •