Eleven years after winning the rainbow jersey and one day after turning 36, the Belgian finished in the top 3 with a strong sprint.
Belgium made the race on Sunday afternoon as soon as the peloton hit a crosswinds section of the Qatari desert, splitting the bunch and dropping a considerable number of sprinters together with their teammates. With 150 kilometers to go, the front group contained only 26 riders, Belgium and Italy having numerical advantage, which they put to work to increase the gap to two minutes before hitting the 15.2km-long Pearl circuit, that was set to be covered seven times.
It all stayed together there until the final lap, when both Niki Terpstra and Tom Leezer put in solo attacks, the latter launching his attack inside the last two kilometers, before getting caught with just 700 meters to go. In the slightly uphill finale, it was every man for himself and Tom Boonen notched the bronze medal after putting in a solid sprint and concluding the race just behind reigning champion Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish.
"I would have preferred to win the race, but things are as they are, so congrats to Peter. I think we tried everything that was possible, took control of the race after 75 kilometers, had an important role again at the Worlds, just like in the previous years, and I'm really proud of my teammates", said Tom Boonen, only the second rider in history to take a medal at the World Championships 11 years after his maiden one.
The 36-year-old Belgian, winner of the rainbow jersey in Madrid and now the oldest rider to podium at the Worlds in the past decade, continued: "We had two tactics today: to get Greg cover the big attacks and to play my card in the sprint. When Leezer went, it was only me and Jurgen left at the front and he had to go full gas to catch him. At that point, I already knew it was going to be difficult, and then, when an Italian guy passed me, I felt I had a chance and tried to surprise my opponents, starting my sprint with 200 meters to go, but with guys like Sagan and Cavendish in your wheel is difficult to make it. I came close of taking the win and can say that I'm happy with the performance of the team."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele