Oudenaarde - Tom Boonen won the Tour of Flanders for the third time in his career, beating Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan in a three-way sprint on Sunday.
On the penultimate climb, the three broke away with 18kms to go in the daylong race. In an open 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 favourite Fabian Cancellara the biggest victim. Initial media reports said he broke his collarbone.
Boonen had been the man in form 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 fast Pozzato, Boonen had enough reserves.
"I didn't have much left but it was enough," Boonen.
Boonen finished the 256km in 6 hours 04:33 minutes. Belgian 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 changed with a new finish that included three climbs on the two toughest hills dotted along the circuit cut through northern Belgium.
With 61kms to go, Cancellara crashed in the middle of the pack during a chaotic stretch where the riders get their last food supplies. Cancellara lay crawled up 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 won in 2010 and was third last year.
With 40kms to go Sebastian Langeveld crashed into a spectator on a downhill stretch and was also out of the race for victory.
The classic was raced in sunny conditions with the temperatures hovering around 12 C (55F). A group of minor riders made a first break but the favourites hit the front of the race with 38kms, and five hills to go.
Another crash with 34kms to go set a dozen riders clear, including Boonen, Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozzato. Surprisingly, the leaders let the pack catch up again.
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.
Result of the 96th edition of the Tour of Flanders on Sunday, a 255km ride:
1. Tom Boonen (BEL/Omega Pharma), 6hr 04min 33sec, 2. Filippo Pozzato (ITA/FAR) same time, 3. Alessandro Ballan (ITA/BMC) s.t., 4. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) at 38sec, 5. Peter Sagan (SVK/LIQ) s.t., 6. Niki Terpstra (NED/OPQ) s.t., 7. Luca Paolini (ITA/KAT) s.t., 8. Thomas Voeckler (FRA/EUC) s.t., 9. Matti Breschel (DEN/RAB) s.t., 10. Sylvain Chavanel (FRA/OPQ) s.t.