Italian Filippo Pozzato upstaged his former team mate Tom Boonen, to win Het Volk today (Saturday, March 3). The Liquigas rider comfortably out sprinted his illustrious breakaway companions after they had caught Stuart O?Grady (CSC) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) within the last kilometre.
Pozzato looked composed as he worked with Boonen, Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) to chase the leading pair down, and by winning confirmed that he is on course to defend his Milan San Remo title in three weeks time.
The former Quickstep rider is one of the few non-Belgians to win the 200km race that traditionally opens the racing season in northern Europe.
O?Grady and Flecha had looked favourite to contest the finish between them after escaping within the last 20km, but got ridden down by the group of four when they started to play cat and mouse in the build up to the sprint.
Nick Nuyens jumped away from the chasers and caught O’Grady and Flecha first, but a flying Pozzato was right on his tail and was able to start his sprint as soon as he re-joined Nuyens as he caught O?Grady and Flecha.
Former world champion Boonen, was right behind but had no answer to Pozzato?s sprint as the Italian eventually finished several bike lengths ahead.
The race took a while to get going as the wet and windy conditions prevailed, but as the race crested the cobbled Eikenberg climb, some 112km in to the race, a small group, including Britain?s Jeremy Hunt, had opened up a gap that increased to over three minutes before they were eventually caught again.
Last years winner Phillipe Gilbert was active in the finale, but his hopes of a repeat win were dashed on the final section of cobbles when he slid off on a wet corner.
The same corner wrecked the chances of many in the peloton as several more crashes split the bunch, bringing many to a standstill, and left most of the favourites at the front.
Leif Hoste, one of the pre-race favourites, missed the formation of the lead group, but for a moment it looked like his Predictor Lotto team mate Robbie McEwen could win as the fastest sprinter to stay with the leaders.
But the Australian was obviously not interested in a result today as he didn?t instruct the team mates he had with him to chase.
Roger Hammond and Stephen Cummings both finished in a group 4.26 minutes down on the winner.