Tom Boonen to race Gent-Wevelgem this weekend instead of the E3 Prijs
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tom Boonen to race Gent-Wevelgem this weekend instead of the E3 Prijs

by Jered Gruber at 3:18 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Four-time E3 champion to race Gent-Wevelgem in hopes of gaining critical World Tour points

The four-time winner of the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, Tom Boonen, will not be present at the race that he has made his personal stomping ground over the course of his career.

The Belgian, who finished 2nd last year to a storming Fabian Cancellara, will instead contest only Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem.

The reason? Certainly not a newfound affinity for Gent-Wevelgem, but rather the need of Boonen's QuickStep team to pick up hugely valuable World Tour team points.

At the moment, the QuickStep team is not even ranked on the World Tour, as it hasn't scored a single point, compared to HTC-Highroad's staggering sum of 354.

With the team's bread and butter races on the rise, the situation is not yet dire, but it's obvious that the team is hoping to avoid just that. If they can get a win from Boonen on Sunday in Wevelgem, many of the possible doom and gloom scenarios will at least quiet down for a few days.

QuickStep manager, Patrick Lefevere, stated the obvious about the reasoning behind shifting his superstar to Sunday over, arguably, Boonen's favorite race of the year, the E3 Prijs Harelbeke.

"We chose this option, because at this point in the season, the team needs to rack up some important important points for the team standings. This is why we decided to put Tom Boonen in Gent-Wevelgem; our aim is to ride a good race and collect valuable points for our team classification."

Boonen doesn't put up a fight in the press release, but does hint strongly that he'll be disappointed to miss out on a chance to win his fifth E3 Prijs Harelbeke and avenge his back to back losses from 2009 (to Pozzato) and 2010 (to Cancellara).

"It isn't easy for me to choose between two races of such stature and tradition. I would have liked to race in both of them, but we've chosen Gent-Wevelgem, because for us at this time, the World Tour is really important."

Missing out on Saturday's E3 will be a sentimental loss for Boonen, but objectively speaking, it's a sage tactic on the part of Lefevere. He needs to get his points while the racing season is firmly within his team's wheelhouse: April. Opting for the E3 over Gent-Wevelgem would be foolish.

The scary thing about the QuickStep philosophy for the weekend is that they're banking on the traditional Gent-Wevelgem finish - a likely bunch sprint. Unfortunately, the changes made to the course in 2010, have made the race an entirely different animal, one of a hillier, more break oriented nature.

The best QuickStep can hope for is terrible weather and a howling gale off the North Sea - exactly what the QuickStep team needs to take control of the race and shred it into bite size pieces.

A Gent-Wevelgem highlighted by sunny skies and a calm breeze would make for a lot more of a crap shoot for a team that does not need anything left to chance right now.

At least Lefevere can rest easy knowing that his number one rider is going well - Boonen looked excellent in today's Dwars Door Vlaanderen, a different rider from the one who limped through Tirreno-Adriatico and was dispatched quickly on the Poggio on Saturday. Not only Boonen, but Chavanel and Steegmans are both in fine form as well.

The squad is sending its best to the World Tour event on Saturday, one fully capable of ripping a race to shreds: Tom Boonen, Sylvain Chavanel, Gerald Ciolek, Dries Devenyns, Davide Malacarne, Andreas Stauff, Gert Steegmans, and Kevin Van Impe.

One key element of Boonen's Ronde armada won't be present on Sunday though: Niki Terpstra. The Dutch Champion will put all of his efforts into Saturday's E3 Prijs Vlaanderen along with Ciolek, Devenyns, Iljo Keisse, Davide Malacarne, Stauff, Van Impe, and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck.


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