Just nine days after he took a record breaking fifth win in the E-3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, and a week after his third victory in Gent-Wevelgem, Tom Boonen raced into the history books yet again on Sunday - with a third triumph in the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
Already the winner in 2005 and 2006, the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider has now become just the fifth cyclist ever to take three victories in the Belgian â€˜Monumentâ€™, and he did so in style, too, outsprinting Italians Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team).
Boonenâ€™s triumph came after Ballan, himself a winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen back in 2007, moved away on the Oude Kwaremont climb, around 17 kilometres from the finish. When Pozzatoâ€™s yellow-clad figure darted after his compatriot, Boonen was shadowing him all the way.
The final sprint was a drawn-out affair: Ballan attempted an early acceleration, but Pozzato and Boonen quickly shot past him. Although Pozzato hung on doggedly all the way to the line, â€˜Tornado Tomâ€™ fended the Italian off for his biggest first â€˜Monumentâ€™ victory since Paris-Roubaix in 2009.
Race winner takes lead in UCI WorldTour ranking
Seventh in the WorldTour individual rankings after the E-3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke and fourth after Gent-Wevelgem, it was almost inevitable after so many top wins that the former World Champion has now become the overall leader. Simon Gerrans (GreenEdge Cycling Team), who held the lead first after winning the Tour Down Under and again after his fine victory in Milano-San Remo, drops to second.
Whilst Boonenâ€™s 100 points from the Ronde van Vlaanderen victory bring his overall score to 266, Gerrans remains steady on 210 albeit a place lower, in second, with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) dropping from second to third with 182.
However, Nibaliâ€™s advantage over his talented young team-mate Peter Sagan, a hugely impressive fifth in Sundayâ€™s race, is now minimal: three points. Saganâ€™s latest top result enables him to move up the ranks from sixth to fourth, with 179 points.
Nations Ranking: Belgium takes over
In yet more changes in the UCI WorldTour rankings, in the nations classification Belgium has now soared to top spot ahead of long-standing leaders Spain. However, the Belgiansâ€™ advantage is minimal - just six points, 467 to Spainâ€™s 461. The Ronde van Vlaanderen was also vital for Italyâ€™s interests too. With an increased total of 416 points - in large part thanks to Ballan - Italy has a margin of 119 over fourth placed Australia. This means the battle for the nations ranking looks increasingly like a three-way duel.
The WorldTour teams ranking is a far more complex affair. Following the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Liquigas-Cannondale have gained enough points to oust Sky from the top spot, whilst Boonenâ€™s Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad are now third overall, three places higher than a week ago. Two former leaders of the ranking, GreenEdge and RadioShack-Nissan have slumped to fourth and fifth spots, respectively.
However the difference between Liquigas-Cannondale and fifth placed RadioShack-Nissan is a mere 61 points, making the battle for supremacy in the ranking undecided. But the teams will not have to wait long to see if they can amass more points: the Vuelta Ciclista al PaÃs Vasco stage race, the next round of the UCI WorldTour, begins on April 2nd.
Photo: Winner of the day, Tom Boonen