Fabian Cancellara began his Belgian campaign with a bang, winning E3 Prijs today in Harelbeke, Belgium, ahead of escape companions Tom Boonen and Juan Antonio Flecha. The win is an important step for the Swiss champion, who is targeting next Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
"It was a thrill to win here," said Cancellara. "My first race in Belgium this season and it is a win."
Boonen (Quick Step) formed the winning trio with an attack on the Paterberg, with 41 kilometres to race. The trio remained together until Saxo Bank's Cancellara attacked with 1400m remaining.
At first Flecha (Sky) relied on Boonen to close the gap, but eventually had to lend a helping hand as he realised the gap wasn't closing. But the two were no match for the three-time world time trial champion and they eventually gave up the chase allowing Cancellara to enjoy the win.
Boonen won the sprint for second, with Flecha third and Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) leading a chase group across the line at 47 seconds back.
Brit Jeremy Hunt (Cervélo) and Sky's Chris Sutton formed part of an escape of 24 riders that dominated the race's first half, before the final 12 crucial climbs.
Their lead never threatened the favourites group behind, having only one-minute's advantage with 70 kilometres and nine climbs remaining. Hunt led up the escape up the cobbled Eikenberg while behind Saxo Bank drove the chase for Swiss Fabian Cancellara.
Hunt lost ground after the Eikenberg, turning the race over to four leaders: Sébastien Rosseler (RadioShack), Maxime Vantomme (Katusha), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) and Kasper Klostergård (Saxo Bank). Behind, Boonen exploded the race with an attack on the cobbled Taaienberg climb that forced Sky to react.
Geraint Thomas then led the chase for some time. "To be honest, I was a bit nervous coming here," said Thomas. "I haven't raced in Belgium before."
Boonen hit again, this time on the race's hardest climb, the Paterberg: 400 metres long and a maximum gradient of 20 per cent, and it was this second attack that proved so decisive.
The northern classics continue tomorrow with Ghent-Wevelgem that has moved from a Wednesday to Sunday, and added more climbs to it's route.
Result: E3 Prijs Harelbeke, 203km
1. Fabian Cancellara (Sui) Saxo Bank
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Team Sky
4. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Katusha
5. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank
6. Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Rabobank
7. Björn Leukemans (Bel) Vacansoleil
8. Paul Martens (Ger) Rabobank
9. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil
10. Fabio Felline (Ita) Footon Servetto
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