Tour of Flanders 2012 photo gallery by Graham Watson>>
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) has continued his comeback to top form, convincingly winning the 2012 Tour of Flanders from a three-man escape group.
Boonen, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) had forged a gap over the chasers after Ballan attacked on the third and final ascent of Oude Kwaremont. Pozzato and Boonen bridged up, and the trio worked well together to keep up the momentum.
The leaders hit the final ascent of the Paterberg - the last of the 256km race's 16 key climbs - and further distanced the chasers with 13km to ride. Boonen looked to be losing touch with his two breakaway companions, but quickly regained contact just after the crest of the punishing final climb.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) was the only rider in the chase group who looked like he could match the lead trio's pace up the cobbles, but soon faded back.
In the final three kilometres, Boonen, Ballan and Pozzato all slowed, reluctant to give any of their rivals a lead-out to the line. Ballan attempted to break free, but was soon chased down and dropped back from the effort.
In the finale, it was a straight-up sprint between Boonen and Pozzato, with the Belgian taking another home win to great roars from the crowd.
"It's amazing," said Boonen after the race. "I wasn't feeling super today, I don't know why but I was feeling a little bit tired. But as the race went on I kept the same feeling and I think the others got tired. In the final I had to count on my sprint, I was not strong enough to ride to the finish solo."
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) brought home the bunch for fourth place at 38 seconds, with Sagan in fifth.
Boonen adds this Tour of Flanders win to his 2012 classics victories at E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem. Boonen has previously won Flanders in 2006 and 2005, and is now only the fourth rider to have ever won the race on three occasions.
Fabian Cancellara's hopes of taking the win were dashed due to a crash in the feed zone. The Swiss rider's RadioShack-Nissan team-mates stopped to tow their leader back up to the action, but Cancellara stayed on the floor, his race over.
Tour of Flanders 2012: Bruges to Oudenaarde 256km
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
2. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Farnese-Vini
3. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing at 1 sec
4. Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing at 38 secs
5. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-QuickStep
7. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha
8. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
9. Matti Breschel (Den) Rabobank
10. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-QuickStep at same time
Tyler Farrar heads an early escape group
Final selection: Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro Ballan and Tom Boonentake the lead
Tom Boonen holds off Filippo Pozzato to take the win, as Alessandro Ballan fades
Winner Tom Boonen with Filippo Pozzato (second, left) and Alessandro Ballan (third, right)
Tour of Flanders 2012 photo gallery
Spring Classics 2012: Coverage index
Tour of Flanders 2012: The Big Preview
Tom Boonen: Rider Profile
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