Tom Boonen won his fourth Paris-Roubaix, in a dominant, Fabian Cancellara-esque fashion. He attacked with over 50km of gruelling cobbled terrain remaining, and never once looked like being reeled in. The victory means that he equals Roger De Vlaeminck‘s record of four wins, and cements his place as one of the greatest Classics riders of all time. Kitty and I review the race.
The opening encounters
The first real movement of the day came courtesy of the day’s large breakaway containing 13 brave (or stupid?) riders. The former Latvian national champion Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis) was the most active rider early on, trying to ride away from the rest alone, only to puncture with 110km remaining. Nevertheless it was a mammoth performance from the Cofidis rider, finishing 18th overall in a supreme effort.
Around the same time Saramotins punctured there was the first big crash of the day back in the peloton. Fortunately none of the big favourites were caught up, although one notable rider who was was 41-year-old Frederic Guesdon, who won Paris-Roubaix for Française des Jeux back in 1997. Riding on the same team today, he ended his career in the very velodrome that he took a glorious victory in 15 years ago. Chapeau, Frederic, and a happy retirement!
Kitty: I liked that the fans all knew about Guesdon and were really cheering him on.
After the crash there was a slight split in the peloton, with Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Pippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Serre Italia) on the wrong side of it. Fortunately, within a few kilometres it was all back together with BMC sitting on the front of the bunch.
There was another ugly crash as the riders entered the famous Trouée d’Arenberg with just over 80km remaining, albeit this time out front in the breakaway. NetApp’s Grischa Janorschke hit the ground with an almighty whack before being carted off to hospital, as the race claimed another victim.
Ballan and Flecha attack
A couple of minutes later the peloton steamed through the Arenberg forest like men possessed, with the mad vibrations shaking both the riders and the racing up. As they exited the narrow funnel of the famous trench, the first favourites made their move with a whole 75km of brutal racing to go. Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha and BMC’s Alessandro Ballan attacked, forcing the two big teams who missed the break – Garmin and OPQS – to sit on the front.
Kitty: What did you think of the barriers along the Arenberg, Jack? I know why they did it – to keep the riders from going really off-piste, but I don’t think it had that grandeur that it used to when it was open. Boy, it was really exciting to watch them go through there – and to will them all to get through safely.
Jack: It was certainly a lot different! It did make it look a lot more enclosed, and I wonder if it actually made it any safer for the riders. I must admit, when I saw Sylvain Chavanel leading the bunch through the trench I took a sharp intake of breath – they were going at a fair pace! I don’t think that it had a bearing on the racing, but it would’ve been chaos if there had been a crash and the riders were all boxed in!
This soon splintered a charging bunch, and after little over 10km, Boonen’s army were back alongside the attackers, as the day’s first real breakaway began to disintegrate. The Belgian favourite’s wingman Sylvain Chavanel looked immensely strong, forcing another breakaway off the group of favourites at around 60km from the finish. But his – and pre-race contender Thor Hushovd‘s (BMC) – luck ran out, with the former puncturing and the latter crashing shortly after.
Boonen’s knockout blow
It was with around 58km to go when Boonen first came to the fore, accelerating away at the front of the race, with Pozzato, Alesssandro Ballan (BMC) and Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) glued to his wheel. To much surprise though, the quartet quickly halved in size, with Boonen beginning to pull away with teammate Niki Terpstra in tow. Two kilometres later, the former Dutch national champ had cracked and Tommeke was all alone.
There were still over 50km remaining: surely Boonen had gone too early! But as his grimace grew, the distance to the velodrome shrunk. He would have certainly had a morale-booster along the way when Pozzato crashed soon after. Despite the valiant efforts of Sky’s Ian Stannard, riding for Edvald Boasson Hagen, Boonen had pulled a Cancellara and wasn’t going backwards.
Kitty: I found it amazing that with all that Sky power, they couldn’t bring Boonen back – and in fact, they couldn’t even hold him! His lead just kept growing and there was only once when it started to go backwards, and that was only for a few seconds. Of course, as an armchair directeur sportif, it’s easy for me to say, but maybe if they’d rode it like a bit of a team time trial so Stannard wasn’t just by himself at the front until he blew, they might have gotten further. That said, I never thought EBH would have had the legs to catch and/or hold Boonen.
Jack: Agreed, it was undoubtedly a huge effort from Stannard who performed excellently, but I do wonder if they could’ve done more. The likes of Boom and Flecha behind could’ve helped out more as well, I think. As is so often demonstrated in cycling, riders need to know when to work with each other. Today they didn’t, and it may well have cost them the chance of winning the race.
With 25km remaining Lars Boom (Rabobank) attacked with last year’s winner Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda), Flecha and Ballan. However, Boonen’s lead just wasn’t coming down. He soloed his way into the velodrome and took the victory by over one and a half minutes.
It was a tremendous fight for second place, with the photo finish showing no difference between a charging Turgot and Ballan. The commissaires eventually decided that the Frenchman had beaten the Italian to the line, taking the biggest result of his career in the process.
Jack: A phenomenal ride from a fantastic rider. Many – and I’ll confess that includes myself – thought that Boonen wasn’t capable of doing such a ride, and the mad 50km lone dash was something reserved for a certain Mr Cancellara! But Boonen has proved us all wrong with a sensational victory, and even if Cancellara had been riding I doubt he could’ve beaten him. He’s banished any thoughts that his victories this spring may have been overshadowed by the absence of his fellow Classics great, riding – and winning – like a true champion.
Kitty: I loved that he did this and I loved that he won. I would disagree with you, however, Jack, in that if Cancellara were there, I think he would have ridden away from Tom at some point before the velodrome. There were a couple of times when Tom looked like he was on the rivet but kept it together. Fab would have exploited that right away. It’s one thing for the entire peloton not being able to keep up with him, but I’m sure Fab could have. But we’ll never know and it really doesn’t matter – the race on the day was amazing, Tom was amazing and a fantastic victor and worthy of the record books! And I really, really wanted to be the one that washed his face after the race … ha ha.
1. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) 5:55:22
2. Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) +1:39
3. Alessandro Ballan (BMC) same time
4. Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) s/t
5. Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
6. Lars Boom (Rabobank) +1:43
7. Matteo Tosatto (Saxo Bank) +3:31
8. Mathew Hayman (Sky) s/t
9. Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t
10. Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) s/t