Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen won the one-day classic Tour of Flanders for a record-equaling third time on Sunday.
The 31-year-old — previously a winner in 2005 and 2006 — beat Italian duo Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan in a sprint finish to the 255km race.
Boonen admitted that he had not been very confident of winning when he was left with just the two Italians for company.
“However, the wind was my ally. It was very tough to cycle alone in the last 8km [with the two Italians],” he said. “The victories record is the cherry on the cake, it only adds to my happiness. To have my name alongside names who have entered the history books in this race.”
“This season, I knew that I could equal or beat quite a few records, but to win my favorite race three times is special,” Boonen added.
His task had been made easier when Switzerland’s Olympic time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara, the winner in 2010, fell 62km from the finish and was later diagnosed to have broken his right collarbone in three places.
Cancellara, who was one of the pre-race favorites for the second one-day classic of the season, will be transferred to a hospital in Basel, Switzerland, where he will undergo an operation.
It brings a premature end to his classics season, which had seen him highly favored for both this race and the Paris-Roubaix next Sunday.
“I saw him fall, he was right beside me, and I all but went with him,” French champion Sylvain Chavanel said. “There were water bottles all over the road. He flew through the air. He was very unlucky.”
Boonen, too, was sorry what had befallen his rival.
“It’s a shame. The race would have been different with him in the mix,” he said.
Boonen — who was aided by Chavanel in regulating the pace after the peloton regrouped with 39km to go — was left with just a group of 10 other riders after a crash after 221km had split the peloton.
Ballan made a break for it on the third climb and was joined by Pozzato and Boonen with 17km to go, with the trio gradually extending their lead.
Boonen — who was world road race champion in 2005 and has won the Paris-Roubaix three times — was recording his eighth win of the season and his third in 10 days.
Boonen said a fourth Paris-Roubaix this weekend was not out of the question.
“I have won a fair few races this season and my confidence has returned,” he said. “Paris-Roubaix? It would be fantastic to win it after having won the GP E3, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.”