Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) abandoned an attempt to win a record fourth Tour of Flanders this morning due to a crash.
The Belgian champion hit the deck only 19 kilometres into the race, struggled to get going again and stepped into an ambulance.
According to early reports, he crashed alone, landed on his hip and shoulder. He has a bruise on his left hip, a wound on his left elbow and on his right knee. An x-ray showed that Boonen had suffered no fractures.
Boonen looked poised to add to his three victories after a rocky off-season. He spent days in the hospital for an intestinal problem and an elbow infection.
Instead of racing the Tour of Qatar as part of his normal season preparations, Boonen was forced to delay his start until the Tour of Oman, February 11 to 16.
He appeared strong in the E3 Harelbeke, launching an attack on the Taaienberg, and in the Three Days of De Panne, pulling for Mark Cavendish. In the Ghent-Wevelgem last Sunday, however, he crashed and banged his knee.
"Panic is the worst thing, why should you panic?" Boonen said on Friday in a press conference. "You have to build your condition step by step; it's not possible to speed it up. You can't go from zero to 100 per cent in two weeks. In January, it all looked well, then in a week, it changed again."
Paris-Roubaix in doubt
Boonen crashed near Bruges in Gits at 19 kilometres into the race, still with 237.1 kilometres to race. According to Het Nieuwsblad's website, he landed on his hip, struggled to re-start and stepped an ambulance. He was taken to the hospital in Torhout, south of Bruges.
The crash comes at the worst time for Boonen, who was attempting to become the first four-time winner of his home race.
It also puts Paris-Roubaix in doubt next Sunday. Boonen won Paris-Roubaix last year and in 2009, 2008 and 2005. If he lines up, he will be racing for a record fifth win.
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