Tom Boonen rewrote the history books as planned but with even more style than expected to win his fourth Paris-Roubaix in a textbook 110th edition of the Queen of Classics. It was widely forecast that the Belgian would equal Roger De Vlaeminck’s record but the way he did it, by breaking clear with 55 kilometres to go and remaining on his own for more than an hour, was a fantastic display of sheer class. Boonen timed his move perfectly, launching a first attack after his unlucky team-mate Sylvain Chavanel punctured on the 200-kms mark. The first blow did not finish off his two leading rivals, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Filippo Pozzato (FAR) but the two Italians bowed when the Tour of Flanders winner struck again with Dutch team-mate Niki Terpstra two kilometers further. At the finish, Boonen raised a cobble for the fourth time, with a special smile on his face. After two years of struggle, the 31-year-old Belgian also became the first man to win the Ronde and the Hell of the North in the same year twice. He is now arguably the strongest man in history in the Flanders classics with 21 wins in the region.
Twelve lead the way
The race started without Francisco Ventoso (MOV), sending 194 riders to tackle the 257.5-kms ride. Several attempts took place from the gun but the pace was too high (48.4 kph in the first hour) for a break to emerge. At kilometer 67, Veuchelen (VCD) and Dehaes (LTB) broke clear and were quickly joined by ten other riders. The twelve were Van Keirsbulck OPQ), Popovych (RNT), Dehaes (LTB), Veuchelen, Lindeman (VCD), Boucher (FDJ), Morkov (SAX), Klemme (ARG), Mangel (SAU), Veilleux (EUR), Saramotins (COF) and Janorschke (APP). With eleven teams involved, the break gained momentum and held a 4:10 lead into the first cobbled sector at km 97.5. A first crash occurred in sector 22, forcing two riders out, but sector 21 was also merciless. A massive pile-up took place in the bunch, holding 1997 winner Frederic Guesdon and splitting the peloton. Pozzato (FAR) also found himself in the second part of the bunch, which finally regrouped.
In the Arenberg Trench, three of the 12 escapees - Boucher, Janorschke and Van Keirsbulck - crashed heavily while Dehaes punctured. Tom Boonen led the peloton into the Trench with French champion Sylvain Chavanel on his heels. At the end of the sector, the gap had gone down to 1:50 between the eight remaining escapees and the peloton. At kilometer 180, two pre-race favorites, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Juan-Antonio Flecha (SKY) tried to take Boonen off his guard. They caught Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ) and Jimmy Casper (ALM) before being joined by Maarten Wynants (RAB) and Sebastien Turgot (EUR). They held a maximum lead of 20 seconds before being reined in.
At the end of sector 13, Sylvain Chavanel attacked and found himself in the lead with Ladagnous, Turgot and Mangel . But the French champion was unlucky to puncture at the worst possible time (Km 200) and his leader Boonen seized the opportunity to counter-attack. Cautiously, Ballan and Pozzato replied and joined him. But they were forced to admit defeat when they were caught by another Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider, Niki Terpstra, who raised the pace and led the way for his leader. Launched like a rocket, Boonen then broke on his own, never to be seen again.
Behind the Tour of Flanders winner, the other big names lost ground one by one. Thor Hushovd (BMC) crashed and later punctured. Chavanel punctured once more. Pozzato crashed and faltered. Only Ballan and Juan-Antonio Flecha (SKY), helped by three team-mates, kept fighting. Despite a brave team effort by Flecha, Boasson-Hagen, Hayman and Stannard, the gap kept increasing and reached the minute with 29 kilometres to go. There was no denying Boonen a well-deserved victory as the chasing group blew to splinters and was left to battle it out for the podium places. France’s Sebastien Turgot surged on the line to take second place ahead of Alessandro Ballan, third for the third time.
Wasn’t it a little bit crazy going from that far?
It was a little bit crazy. It is not something I often do. But it was a perfect day to take some risks. I had my big victory already, the one I had been working for so hard for six months. So today I was not planning on this. But when arrived in the front with Niki, I thought I already had Flanders so why not win Roubaix in a very special way? I fought hard with the wind and when I was 30 seconds up, I thought it’s hard for everybody. When I had one minute I was pretty sure I would make it all the way to Roubaix.
What were your thoughts in the finale?
I was not really thinking about winning the race or beating a record. I was fighting step by step, cobblestone by cobblestone, kilometre by kilometre. When you start a move like this and you start to think it’s 50 kilometers, it’s nearly impossible. You make it harder than it is. I was trying to fight section by section I was not trying to go for the minute straight away. I did not force myself. I took it second by second and it twas the best way to save my strength. It turned out OK. It was the best option for me.
Would you have won in such way when you were younger?
Today was one of the best days in my career. I don’t usually need this. Usually I use my sprint. It’s always much safer if you can stay in front with two or three riders and you don’t have to try to go in a breakaway alone. Being a little bit older I don’t panic. The first 15 kms I just tried to take as much time as possible to Carrefour de l’Arbre and never panic, just push it as hard as I can.
What is so special about the Roubaix velodrome?
This is the only finish line when you can do two laps. The only last kilometer on which you can really feel the crowd. A race like this needs a special finish. It’s almost more Paris-Roubaix than the cobbles. I really enjoyed my last two laps here.
Is it better to win like this or in a sprint?
I like to win in a sprint also. But winning a fourth Paris Roubaix is already something unique, especially in this era. And winning this way was even more special.
Is it the crowning of a dream season equalling this record ?
I was not really thinking about this record. I was working hard to be at my top level for these weeks. If I look back on these two of three weeks, I realize I’m the only guy to have won Flanders and Roubaix the same year twice. I’m probably the best guy on the cobbles, the best guy that ever rode on these roads. And my career isn’t over yet. I’ve still got a couple of good seasons left. I do it for the love of the bike. I just love it. I never have a problem with motivation. I rode for 11 seasons and you have ups and downs. But I do it for these races. Roubaix, Flanders. That’s the thing I like. I have more love for the bike than ever. It’s getting easier getting older.
"I tried my luck with 60 kms to go but then Boonen took off and he was just too strong . There was not much to do, he was just too strong. In the finale, I found myself behind Flecha, Ballan and Boom, with Terpstra who also wanted to make it back for the podium. I gave it my all. I did a little bit of track and it helped in the last stretch. You always have a dream, always a hope to win. You don’t start to be part of it even if there are great riders like Boonen, Ballan or Flecha… "
France’s Sebastien Turgot (EUC) was second ahead of Italy’s Alessandro Ballan (BMC).
Belgium’s Tom Boonen (OPQ) wins the 110th Paris-Roubaix.
One kilometre to go and Tom Boonen makes a four sign with his hand as he prepares to ride into the velodrome.
and Boonen holds a 1:30 lead over Flecha, Ballan and Boom.
Only eight kilometres to go and the suspense is now about the podium placings.