Boonen retains Tour of Flanders title

Updated: April 2, 2006, 12:07 PM ET
Reuters

MEERBEKE, Belgium -- World champion Tom Boonen outsprinted Leif Hoste to become the first rider in 33 years to retain the Tour of Flanders title on Sunday.

The two Belgians broke away with 30 kilometers to go of the race from Bruges to Meerbeke. American George Hincapie was third 1 minute and 15 seconds behind Boonen.

The last rider to win the Tour of Flanders twice in succession was Belgian Eric Leman, in 1972 and 1973. "I did no reconnaissance of the course because I know it by heart," Boonen told reporters.

"This win is my response to all the questions I've been asked during this last week." the overwhelming pre-race favorite said.

"All of my eight teammates did a perfect job. After all the hard work they did for me, I had to do my best to finish off the great job they did."

Boonen shredded the leading group to some 15 riders on the daunting Koppenberg climb and then quickly responded to an attack by Hoste.

With Boonen's Quick Step teammate Paolo Bettini of Italy deftly blocking counter-charges behind, the duo opened up a gap of over a minute on their closest chasers.

Watched by Belgium's King Albert at the finish, Boonen used his powerful sprint to take his 12th victory of the season and the 58th of his five-year career.

Boonen is the first world champion to win the Tour of Flanders since Belgian Eddy Merckx in 1975. The win put him top of the ProTour series standings.

He will defend the Paris-Roubaix Classic in France next Sunday, but refused to be drawn on his chances of victory simply saying: "We'll talk about that next week."