|Boonen, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2005 and 2006, pipped Italian Filippo "Pippo" Pozzato at the finish to claim his third title in Belgium's one-day classic [AFP]
Belgian rider Tom Boonen won the Tour of Flanders for the third time in his career, beating Italians Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan in a three-way sprint on Sunday as favourite Fabian Cancellara broke his collarbone in a crash.
On the penultimate climb, the three broke away with 12 miles to go in the day-long race.
In a sprint to the line, Boonen held a bike-length margin over Pozzato for his first Tour of Flanders win since 2006.
Crashes marked the final stages of the classic with Switzerland's Cancellara the most notable victim.
The 2010 winner of the race fell in the feed zone and was brought to the hospital in Oudenaarde for emergency care. There, a triple fracture of the right collarbone was diagnosed.
Cancellara will return to Switzerland, where he will undergo an operation.
Boonen came into the race as the in-form rider with victories in two other Belgian classics over the past two weeks - the E3 and Gent-Wevelgem races.
"The two scared me in the finale. They know each other well,'' he said of the two Italians.
Ballan tried to escape twice in the final stages, and each time it was Boonen who had to close the gap. And against the quick Pozzato, Boonen had just enough reserves.
"I didn't have much left but it was enough,'' Boonen.
Boonen finished the 159-mile in 6 hours, 4 minutes and 33 seconds. Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet finished fourth, 38 seconds behind, beating Peter Sagan of Slovakia, Dutchman Niki Terpstra and Italian Luca Paolini.
The finale of the classic was altered with a new finish that included three climbs on the two toughest hills dotted along the circuit that cuts through northern Belgium.
With 38 miles to go, Cancellara crashed in the middle of the pack during a chaotic stretch where the riders get their last food supplies. Cancellara remained on the asphalt for a long time before he was taken off.
"It is too bad, it would have been so much better with him there too,'' said Boonen.
Cancellara finished third last year.
With 25 miles remaining, Sebastian Langeveld crashed into a spectator on a downhill stretch, and was also knocked out of the race.
The classic was held in sunny conditions with the temperatures hovering around 55F. A group of minor riders made a first break but the favourites hit the front with 24 miles, and five hills to go.
Another crash with 21 miles to go sent a dozen riders, including Boonen, Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozzato clear. Surprisingly, the leaders let the pack catch up.
The riders move to northern France for Paris-Roubaix next Sunday, the cobblestone classic that Boonen has already won three times.
"I already have a triple and it is my favourite race,'' Boonen said.