Perfect Day to Take a Risk

With many eyes on him as the overwhelming pre-race favourite, Belgian Tom Boonen silenced his critics with a demonstrative solo victory at Paris-Roubaix last night, crossing the velodrome finish line 1 minute 39 seconds ahead of the following five-man group.

After the day’s early 12-man breakaway had been reeled in, Boonen attacked, alongside his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Niki Terpstra, with 56km remaining. The pair quickly carved out a 15-second advantage before Terpstra was unable to match Boonen’s pace.

And though he was alone, with four Team Sky riders amassed at the front of the first chase group, Boonen was committed to the bold move, gradually increasing his lead. With just over 10km remaining and the perilous Carrefour de l’Arbre cobblestones behind him, it was clear the race behind was a fight for second place.

Frenchman Sébastien Turgot (Europcar) gave the home crowd something to celebrate as he edged out Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) in a dead-heat sprint for second place, while Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) took fourth. Terpstra was fifth, with Lars Boom (Rabobank) sixth.

With the win, Boonen ties Roger De Vlaeminck as the only other rider to win Roubaix four times; he also becomes the only rider to have won E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in one season, and he becomes the first rider to complete the Flanders-Roubaix double twice in his career.

“Attacking from so far out is not something I often do,” said the Belgian. “But today was the perfect day to take a risk. When I arrived at the front with Niki, I thought, ‘Why not try?'”

Boonen Does it Alone

The race began to truly take shape on the Orchies cobblestone sector with 60km to go, as Boonen and Pozatto accelerated from the pack, catching Turgot; behind, Terpstra and Ballan bridged across to form a dangerous five-man move.
Sensing the time was right, Boonen and Terpstra accelerated, while Pozatto and Ballan made the decision not to join the Belgian Omega Pharma teammates with so far to go. And that choice looked to be a wise one when Terpstra dropped back a few kilometers later on the five-star pavé section of Auchy-les-Orchies-Bersée, leaving Boonen on his own with 52km remaining.

Soon after, however, Pozzato lost his rear wheel in a cobblestone corner and went down, taking Stijn Devolder (Vacansoleil-DCM) with him, and Boonen’s lead doubled.

For the first 10km of his solo move, Boonen’s gap hovered around 30 seconds, until it slowly started stretching out – 34 seconds at 43km to go, 37 seconds with 42km to go, 44 seconds with 37km to go, and 55 seconds with 32km to go.

“When I had 30 seconds, I thought, ‘Okay it’s hard for everyone,'” Boonen said. “I only worried about another favorite like Ballan or Pozatto bridging across on Carrefour de L’Arbre. Then it would have been impossible for me to win.”

“Behind there were four riders from Sky and we thought they could catch Boonen, but apparently it was not possible,” said Luca Paolini (Katusha), who finished 11th. “We never gave up, we always stayed 40 or 50 seconds behind, but then he was able to grow the gap.”

It was an audacious solo attack reminiscent of Fabian Cancellara‘s race-winning move in 2010, from nearly the exact same distance to the finish. The RadioShack-Nissan rider was conspicuously absent from the race after crashing out of the Tour of Flanders with a broken collarbone last Sunday. Yet Cancellara watched the race at home on television, and with 25km remaining, sent out a message via Twitter: “[Boonen] is [motivated] to win alone and not like the other races in the sprint. #mentalpower. Looks like it gonna happen.”

With only the five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre cobbles remaining as Boonen’s true final obstacle, Boom attacked from the chase group, opening a small gap on the chase group, and for the first time, Boonen’s lead dipped, slightly, from 1:20 to 1:10. Flecha, Ballan and Ladagnous followed Boom to form a four-man group, however Ladagnous punctured with 13km to go, leaving just three.

Once out of the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector, Boonen’s victory was assured; the race behind was for second place. And though it seemed the second-place finisher would come from the Flecha-Ballan-Boom chase group, cat-and-mouse tactics inside the velodrome allowed Turgot and Terpstra to make contact, with the Frenchman surprising to surge ahead of Ballan in a photo finish.

By that time, however, Boonen had already soaked up his victory lap, emphatically punctuating one of the most dominant spring classics campaigns in history.

Said Boonen, “I think today was one of the best days in my career.”

Check out the full results here.

Do you think Cancellara would have had a chance? Have your say here.