Tom Boonen finished off a fantastic team effort on Monday, winning in a sprint amongst a 20-plus rider echelon that included four Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team members.
"First of all let me thank the team," Boonen said. "Levi Leipheimer, Sylvain Chavanel, and Nikolas Maes did a great job. They really put me in the best condition possible to launch my sprint. To be honest we had to suffer to enter in the breakaway. We were a little bit behind because of a roundabout. I had to pass two groups before entering in the first group. Then the race was really hard. Everybody was interested in riding and taking some time from the GC. It was also cold and windy and in the last kilometers it began raining. I really couldn't feel my hands. But it's OK, we made it! So far I'm happy about my choice to race Paris-Nice."
The break formed with a little less than 90km remained, taking advantage of windy conditions on what would normally be a flat sprint stage. A crash dwindled down the group from 29 to 21 riders. Boonen, Levi Leipheimer, Sylvain Chavanel and Nikolas Maes were with Tom. The team had the most riders in the break, giving them a major advantage. Chavanel did outstanding work at the front of the echelon, especially in the final kilometers where he was constantly in the wind.
"First of all, it was no surprise to anyone that we had a crosswind," Director Sportif Brian Holm said. "The problem was when it would happen. We tried as much as possible to stay close to the front during the race. More or less in the feed zone, everybody split up. Nobody got their mussettes, their food bags. So the race was starting more or less in the feed zone. We were of course riding for Mr. Boonen, but we were looking after Chavanel, Leipheimer and Tony Martin in the race. Twenty one riders got away, and we had four riders going into the sprint. We can't really complain about that."
Maes gave Boonen a superb leadout, and Boonen beat out strong sprinters Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i).
This was Tom Boonen's 100th win, the 21st win for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team of the season, and the first team World Tour win of the season.
Levi Leipheimer is now 2nd on the GC, 6 seconds back. Boonen is 3rd, 7 seconds back. Chavanel is 5th, 14 seconds back. Boonen also holds the green points jersey. This was Leipheimer and Boonen's first race with SRAM Red 2012.
"Apparently today I won race number 100 without counting criterium and team time trial," Tom Boonen said. "As you know, I'm really not intertested in stats. But on the other hand I'm happy! Not a lot of riders can reach this goal. The race was also important for the GC. Levi and Sylvain made a good step ahead and we are really motivated for the next stages. It's a pity for Tony Martin, he was really unlucky today."
Martin was trapped in one of the back echelons, after the field completely shattered. Holm said today's results will not change the team tactics much.