Tom Boonen of Quickstep won Gent-Wevelgem for the second time this afternoon, taking victory in a sprint finish from Daniele Bennati of Leopard Trek and Tyler Farrar of Garmin Cervelo. Team Sky's Ian Stannard, who had got into a four-man breakaway with 35km still to ride, made a brave solo bid for victory 2km out but was caught with the line tantalisingly in sight.
Quickstep had been under pressure to get a result after slipping to the bottom of the ProTeam rankings, with Boonen, winner in 2004, duly delivering, despite it being no secret that he hates this race and would rather have been riding yesterday’s E3.
A five man breakaway had been reduced to just three members as they crested the Kemmelberg for the first time with 60km to go, at which point the trio held a two and a half minute advantage over the peloton.
That trio was made up of Europcar's Thomas Voeckler in the French national champion's colours, Steven van Vooren of Topsport Vlaanderen-Mercator and the Cofidis rider, Romain Zingle, having dropped the other escapees, Skil-Shimano's Albert Timmer and Bram Schmit of Veranda's Willems-Accent.
By the time the race hit the Kemmelberg second time around, Voeckler was out on his own, but was caught with 35km still to ride, with a quartet of riders attacking almost immediately, two from Liquigas – Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar - plus Quickstep’s Sylvain Chavanel and Team Sky's Stannard.
The main group, shedding riders as they refused to allow the four escapees to build too much of an advantage, seemed set to make the catch 2km out but Stannard suddenly shot off the front and at one point looked like he might pull off a famous victory.
However, just a couple of hundred metres from the line, the chasing pack swept passed him as Boonen, Bennati and Farrar contested the sprint, with a crash taking out other contenders such as FDJ’s Yoann Offredo.
While Stannard’s performance is the one that will be remembered, it was a day to forget for Britain’s two biggest hopes for a result here.
Mark Cavendish, who had earlier needed to grab a rear wheel from HTC-Highroad team mate Matt Brammeier after puncturing, was brought to a halt as the race entered its closing 20km when Ruiz Madrazo clipped him, the Manxman clearly unimpressed with the Movistar rider.
With splits happening in the peloton due to the main bunch forcing the pace to try and keep the break in check, Cavendish was never going to get back on.
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, second in the Dwars Door Vlaanderen earlier this week, crashed on the first descent from the Kemmelberg, and although he made it back on to the rear of the peloton, what appeared to be a subsequent mechanical problem put him out of contention.
Instead, it was left to Stannard to fly the flag for Great Britain, and while his bid for glory would ultimately prove unsuccessful, his brave efforts to go for a solo win suggest that his day will come.
2011 Gent-Wevelgem result
1 Tom Boonen Quickstep 4:35:00
2 Daniele Bennati Leopard Trek (same time)
3 Tyler Farrar Garmin-Cervelo
4 André Greipel Omega Pharma-Lotto
5 Lloyd Mondory AG2R-La Mondiale
6 Mitch Docker Skil-Shimano
7 Bernhard Eisel HTC-Highroad
8 Kristof Goddaert AG2R-La Mondiale
9 Lars Boom Rabobank
10 Baden Cooke Saxo Bank-SunGard
11 Yoann Offredo FDJ
12 Leonardo Duque Cofidis
13 Greg Van Avermaet BMC Racing
14 Tiziano Dall'Antonia Liquigas-Cannondale
15 Adrien Petit Cofidis
16 Sébastien Chavanel Europcar
17 Anthony Geslin FDJ
18 Daniel Oss Liquigas-Cannondale
19 Robert Hunter RadioShack
20 Roy Curvers Skil-Shimano
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