QuickStep’s tactics were beautiful to watch, placing Chavanel in the break and forcing all of the other favourites to chase whilst Boonen and team mate Steegmans sat in the armchair.
‘Man of the match’ award however, must go to Englishman Ian Stannard who was just a couple of hundred metres from pulling off the surprise of the season, leaving Liquigas Slovakian sensation Peter Sagan in his wake in the cliff hanger finale.
A brisk first hour saw 50 plus kilometres below the tubs as the race zipped up towards Ostend and the North Sea.
As the route turned south near Adinkerke a break of five went clear , French champion Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Bram Schmitz (Verandas Willems & Holland), Romain Zingle (Cofidis & Belgium) Steven Van Vooren (Topsport & Belgium) plus Albert Timmer (Skil Shimano & Holland.)
The lead went as high as five minutes but yoyo-ed around two to three for much of their escape.
Voeckler’s storming of the bergs soon had the break down to three – the French man plus Zingle and Van Vooren.
Back in the bunch Mark Cavendish (HTC and GB) picked a bad time to puncture – at the foot of the Kemmel for the first time.
Over the top of the Kemmel a quality group prized clear – Matthew Hayman (Sky & Australia) was there, as were previous Wevelgem winners, world champion Thor Hushovd (Garmin & Norway) and George Hincapie (BMC & USA) – there too was ‘reborn’ Nokere Koerse winner, Belgium’s Gert Steegmans back where he belongs at QuickStep.
Powering across and looking mean was Philippe Gilbert (Lotto & Belgium) – but only for him to puncture and go back through the groups.
Ahead, Voeckler danced the bergs as his two companions Zingle and Van Vooren grimaced – with the lead less than a minute at De Klijte with 44 K to go, the end was nigh for the lead trio.
But they were faring better than the Hushovd group which was gobbled up in the mad charge for the second ascent of the Kemmel.
And better too than Sky’s British champion Geraint Thomas who’s mud stained jersey told its own tale.
Voeckler was now ‘en seule’ and continuing to look strong on the cobbles of the Kemmel; over the top he still had around 30 seconds on a rampaging peloton where some big names were prominent – Peter Sagan (Liquigas & Slovakia), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky & Spain) and a certain ‘Tomeke’ Boonen – we don’t need to tell you the ‘ploeg’ or nationality.
Over the top on the false flats, Hushovd was to the fore again, as were Daniele Bennati (Leopard TREK & Italy) and ‘Pippo’ Pozzato (Katusha & Italy).
Voeckler refused to surrender, hoping that maybe he could jump on a counter attack – but it was not to be and he was swallowed by the peloton.
Four got clear – Sylvain Chavanel (QuickStep & France), Ian Stannard (Sky & GB and two Liquigas, Maciek Bodnar (Poland) and Sagan.
Chavanel has won on the hard roads of Belgium in the past – Dwars door and Brabantse Pijl in 2008; whilst Stannard was on the podium of a gruesome Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in 2010.
And Sagan is the coming man, completely dominating a tough Tour of Sardinia just a few weeks ago.
Bodnar meanwhile, was killing himself for Sagan.
With the last 35 K pan flat it was always going to be tough to hold off the charging peloton – especially with Tyler Farrar (Garmin & USA), Andre Greipel (Lotto & Germany) and Cav all seemingly alive and kicking.
Back in the bunch the irrepressible Voeckler was now taking turns as the gap hovered around 30 seconds to the four leaders with 20 K to go.
Vacansoleil started to take an interest in the chase – their French fast man Romain Feillu must have been feeling good.
Another fast man not feeling good though, was Cav – paying the price for sitting at the back as he hit the grass in a shunt.
His subsequent chasing looked far from inspired – and a major split in the peloton effectively sealed his fate.
The head of the peloton could easily see the fleeing four, just 27 seconds ahead with 17 K to go.
It looked good for QuickStep with Chavanel in the break and Steegmans and Boonen lurking behind.
Dwars door winner Nick Nuyens (Belgium) tried to organise the chase for Saxo but there were few takers until Gilbert tried to bridge, Steegmans was on to him in a flash but Gilbert persisted regardless – doing a job for Greipel as the lead slid under 20 seconds.
But the four leaders were riding in TTT formation that the East German squad would have been proud of.
BMC took it up, then Voeckler, then The Shack – but the gap was still 22 seconds at 10 kilometres to go.
Eight kilometres – five miles and still BMC chased, so did Voeckler, The Shack again, Cofidis and the gap was down to eight seconds despite Stannard’s huge turns.
But in a blink it was back to 11 seconds with just five K to go through the packed streets of Wevelgem – there’d be no finer place to own a bar, today.
Gilbert lined out Lotto, QuickStep shadowed as ahead Bodnar exploded – but no shame after the job he did.
Daniele Bennati’s face shows how much 2nd place means.
Three K and ten seconds, then eight, seven – Chavanel kills himself; two K and it’s six as Stannard jumps.
Sagan and Chavanel don’t panic but the big English man holds the gap.
Red kite !
Stannard drives and drives, Sagan and Chavanel succumb to the wolf pack.
Can Stannard do it ?
Winning is fun!
He’s swamped as Steegmans leads out Boonen; the former world champion commits early but no one can get near him – Tomeke is back !
Results: 2011 gent – Wevelgem
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
2. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Leopard Trek
3. Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-Cervelo
4. Andrй Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma – Lotto
5. Jurgen Van De Walle (Bel) Omega Pharma – Lotto
6. Dries Devenyns (Bel) Quick Step
7. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) HTC-Highroad
8. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) BMC Racing Team
9. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10. Baden Cooke (Aus) Saxo Bank Sunguard