Vanmarcke edges out Boonen
Garmin-Barracuda's Sep Vanmarcke outsprinted Tom Boonen in a Belgian one-two at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad.
By Jonathan Turner
Last Updated: 25/02/12 4:43pm
Garmin-Barracuda's Sep Vanmarcke outsprinted Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quickstep) in a Belgian one-two on home soil at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the race that marks the start of the Classics season.
And Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha netted a fifth podium place in six years as he chased them home in third.
The trio formed part of the day's decisive group when Boonen attacked on the cobbled Taaienberg climb with 59 kilometres remaining.
The seven-man selection also included Team Sky's Mathew Hayman and they soon reeled in the remnants of an early breakaway which had held an advantage of 12 minutes early in the 200km race.
Seven became five when Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) and Matti Breschel (Rabobank) were dropped on the Paddestraat cobbles with 29km to go.
And what proved the race-defining split came just after the 20km to go banner when Vanmarcke, who had also attacked on the Molenberg, launched another power-packed move which this time distanced both Hayman and Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and meant it was every man for himself in the battle for top spot on the podium.
Boonen always looked like the favourite if it came down to a sprint and, despite an attack from Flecha inside the final 3km, the trio were locked together heading into the closing stages.
Boonen went for the line first but it was fellow Belgian Vanmarcke who had the final say as he surged past on the outside to win by a couple of bike lengths for the biggest win of his career to date.
Flecha, winner of the race in 2010 and a narrow runner-up 12 months ago, had to settle for third after another fine ride.
The gap to the peloton had held steady at around two minutes but they closed rapidly in the finale as they hoovered up the dropped riders and it was Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Barracuda) who won the bunch sprint for fourth, 24 seconds behind.
The race, run in ideal conditions, had really come to life in the final third, with crashes aplenty as the riders jostled for position approaching the cobbled Kruisberg climb 70km out.
Team Sky's Christian Knees was among those caught up in a crash at that point while team-mate Alex Dowsett needed a new wheel soon after.
And defending champion Sebastian Langeveld (GreenEDGE), who had pipped Flecha last year, was effectively ruled out by a crash with 55km to go as the real drama started to unfold up ahead.
Attention now switches to Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne which takes centre stage in Belgium on Sunday.
Team Sky's Chris Sutton is the defending champion and the only change to their eight-man squad sees world champion Mark Cavendish come in for Christian Knees.