On the eve of his most important races of the season – the Tour of Flanders on Sunday and Paris-Roubaix the following week – Guillaume Boivin has finally found his legs and his spirits.
The Quebec cyclist achieved one of his best performances in two years, finishing ninth in the classic Through Flanders, a World Tour level event won by Frenchman Christophe Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Wednesday, in Belgium.
“It’s been at least a year, if not more, since I’ve had fun like this,” Boivin said an hour after the finish. “Let me tell you, it feels good. »
Fresh out of the Tour of Catalonia on Sunday in Barcelona, the Israel-Premier Tech rider only decided the day before to take the start of what the Dutch call Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he had finished 29th on his first attempt in 2012 under the colors of SpiderTech.
As fellow countryman Nickolas Zukowsky (Q36.5) slipped into a six-man breakaway, Boivin was stuck behind a crash by Belgian champion Tim Merlier (Soudal-Quick Step) on the Berg Ten Houte, a 70km climb of arrival. The peloton then began to split according to the attacks.
“I had to dismount. I managed to get in despite everything, but I really made a huge effort to get there. That’s when I realized I had very good legs, but it cost me dearly. »
Boivin therefore found himself in the selection of around forty riders who could still compete for victory on arrival in Waregem after 183.7 km.
Zukowsky, who finished 48th, was caught after 116 km in a breakaway, but two of his companions resisted until the end: the powerful Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X, 27th) and the indestructible Spaniard Oier Lazkano (Movistar) . He found the energy to settle the sprint of the peloton after 166 km in the breakaway, including the last end alone with Kristoff. Phenomenal.
4 km from the line, Laporte got out of a group of counter-attackers to go alone towards the finish, 15 seconds before Lazkano. After receiving the gift of victory from his teammate Wout van Aert three days earlier in Ghent-Wevelgem, the Frenchman has provided Jumbo-Visma with a fifth success on the cobbled classics since the start of the year.
The American Neilson Powless (EF) completed the podium at the same time. The Belgian Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin) had to settle for the sprint for fourth place.
Despite suboptimal positioning at the red flame which caused him to catch some wind, Boivin gritted his teeth to climb to ninth place, his best result in a WorldTour race since finishing at the same position in Paris-Roubaix in October 2021.
“Could have been a little better.” I might have been able to get one more place by being a little smarter. It remains that with Philipsen, [Mads] Pedersen, [Davide] Ballerini, [Arnaud] De Lie, it would take me maybe a little longer and a little harder race if I want to have a chance against these guys -there. »
This result is a huge relief for Boivin, who had a last year of little misery where he was in turn affected by back pain, the flu and COVID-19. Called at the last minute, he dragged himself during his second Tour de France.
The three-time Canadian champion had a rough start to the season when he contracted COVID-19 again after playing at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne at the end of February.
On the floor for ten days, he had to give up Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo. His participation in the Tour of Catalonia, where he put himself at the service of his friend Michael Woods (6th), allowed him to get back in shape.
Even though he was only allowed two days off, he was happy to have answered the call for Through Flanders.
“I don’t have a big track record and top 10s in one-day WorldTour races, it doesn’t come every week in my case. I will savor. Above all, it gives me great confidence for the two monuments that are coming. »
After giving up the E3 Grand Prix and Ghent-Wevelgem, Hugo Houle finished 87th in Through Flanders, 3:38 behind the winner. He will meet his teammate Boivin on Sunday at the Tour of Flanders, where it will be his 10th participation.