Liquigas' Filippo Pozzato “the blond angel”, benefiting from great team work from the Liquigas team all race, made a perfectly timed attack with 500 metres to go and became the third Italian to win the Het Volk.
The race which was fast furious and very exciting saw the big first move after 50 kilometres. 8 men broke away on the Vieux-Quarémont: Lorenzo Bernucci (T-Mobile), Jeremy Hunt (Unibet.com), Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas), Johan Vansummeren (Predictor-Lotto), Geoffroy Lequatre and Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Sébastien Rosseler and Gert Steegmans (Quick Step-Innergetic)..
These eight men, who built a maximum of 3 minutes lead were caught with 44 kilometres to go, after excellent work by Rabobank, with Discovery Channel’s Steve Cummings in the thick of the action.
The attacks came thick and fast after this point and the peloton started to thin rapidly, as wind rain sunshine and miles took their toll on the riders.
Philippe Gilbert, who was looking in great shape animated a good move but was unfortunate to crash, and with 15 kilometres to go and only 30 riders still in with a shout Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) and Juan-Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) came out of the shadows.
These two “baroudeurs of the pave” caused Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic) to move up a gear and he was joined by Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) and two former team mates Nick Nuyens (Cofidis) and Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) in the chase.
Flecha, realising that if he and O’Grady reached the finish together the Australian would almost certainly win a sprint, tried to distance himself from O’Grady in the last 4 kilometres, while the chasing 4 men kept the gap to just ten seconds.
With Cooke tiring, Nuyens made a bid to close the gap on the leaders under the Flamme Rouge. Boonen followed while Pozzato waited.
When the group rejoined with 500 metres to go Pozzato pounced.
Team Liquigas raced to perfection as first Manuel Quinziato (fresh off his return from the Tour of California) placed himself in an early breakaway aboard his Cannondale Synapse. Roberto Petito led the chase of a later breakaway until Brazilian fast man Murilo Fischer went into an important late breakaway, forcing the other favored Belgian teams to chase down.
In the finale, Pozzato made an elite group of six persuers, chasing down Juan Antonio Flecha and Stuart O'Grady. When Nick Nuyens attempted a very late bridge, Pozzato turned to heavy favorite Tom Boonen to close him down, and then counter-attacked perfectly at 250 meters from the line to take the win over Flecha.
“It was an important win for me. The final was difficult with riders like Tom Boonen, Nuyens and O'Grady; all of them are good riders. But it was my team who did a lot of the work, and it was not just the last kilometre, but they did lots of work beforehand."
"It was ironic that Quick-Step did not win after racing so strong today. But the other teams worked hard, like Rabobank. The final sections of pavé really made the difference.”
"[Baden] Cooke did not pull in the final. And maybe Boonen was a little tired. I used a little bit of grinta and it worked out," noted Pozzato post-race.
Marcus Burghardt and Andreas Klier finished the gruelling half-classic as the best placed T-Mobile pros, crossing the line in a chasing group about a minute down on Pozzatto.
"We wanted to ride an offensive race right from the start and get a man away in any potential escapes. This tactic worked well with Bernucci away, and the rest of the team were able to sit back in the peloton for a long part of the race", said T-Mobile sporting director Tristan Hoffman. "It's just a pity that we didn’t then have a rider in the decisive attack at the end of the race.
“Marcus Burghardt worked very hard to close the gap to the lead group,” added Hoffman. “And Andreas Klier made a huge effort to bridge across with six kilometres to go, but the gap was simply too great at that stage."
Flecha didn't work very hard at the beginning of the break and during the final five kilometers he even tried to pull free of Stuart several times, because he didn't want to risk a sprint against him at the end. So Stuart had to use all his strength to maintain the lead and of course he was a bit annoyed by this," explained sports director Scott Sunderland after the race.
But even though Rabobank tactics cost both themselves and Team CSC the victory, Sunderland was still satisfied with Saturday's events in Belgium.
"Stuart was really strong throughout the day, but it's been a few years since he's done this particular race so he couldn't remember the route as well as his rivals, who joined himself and Flecha at the end. This meant he used more strength than otherwise necessary in some situations, but still – he had the strength for a solo attack, and he was quite pleased with that afterwards," concluded Sunderland.
1. Filippo Pozzato (ITA, Liquigas) les 200 km en 5h04'38"
2. Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP, Rabobank) à 2 sec.
3. Tom Boonen (BEL, Quick Step-Innergetic) m.t.
4. Nick Nuyens (BEL, Cofidis) m.t.
5. Stuart O'Grady (AUS, Team CSC) m.t.
6. Baden Cooke (AUS, Unibet.com) à 30 sec.
7. Gorik Gardeyn (BEL, Unibet.com) à 39 sec.
8. Stefan Van Dijck (PBS, Wiesenhof-Felt) m.t.
9. Robbie McEwen (AUS, Predictor-Lotto) m.t.
10. Steven De Jongh (PBS, Quick Step-Innergetic) m.t.