Race Report: With a huge cuddle from QuickStep DS Wilfried Peeters as his first reward, Tom Boonen gained his place among the Gods on Olympus as only the second man to win Paris Roubaix four times. Equaling the feat of Roubaix legend, Roger De Vlaeminck. Freewheeling home with four fingers held high to the crowd, this was a win in the Merckx mould.
Attacking a group of the finest classics riders in the world with just a little less than 60 kilometres to go, initially with team mate Terpstra, but then in solitary splendour he thrashed over the cobbles, powered through the dust, ignored the pain and made sure his name will be legend in the bars of Belgium for decades to come.
It was fully 1:39 before French surprise Sebastien Turgot (Europcar) narrowly out sprinted reborn Italian Alessandro Ballan BMC).
But this day was about one just one man.
The early break of Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan), Kenny De Haes (Lotto-Belisol), Frederik Veuchelen (Vacansoleil-DCM), Bert Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM), David Boucher (FDJ-Big Mat), Michael Morkov (Team Saxo Bank), David Veilleux (Team Europcar), Dominic Klemme (Argos-Shimano), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun), Aleksejs Saramotins (Cofidis) and Grischa Janorschke (Team NetApp) went after around 70 kilometres and spelled smoothly through the first sectors with a maximum lead of some five minutes.
Things went awry for the fugitives in Arenberg though – with Janorschke coming down hard and ending his day in hospital.
He took down a number of his breakaway companions but coming out of the forest the break still had around 90 seconds.
Just after Arenberg a group of six prized loose from the peloton – Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Jimmy Casper (AG2R), Maarten Wynants (Rabobank) and Sebastian Turgot (Europcar).
An ebbing and flowing of the groups commenced with around 65 K to go – but inside 60 K it was Boonen astonishingly making a huge statement of intent, dragging clear team mate Terpstra.
Behind there was little cooperation as the two men in blue thrashed into sector 11 – but Boonen proved just too strong for his Dutch team mate as he pummeled that Specialized to a 30 second gap.
Pozzato came down – morale blown, his DS pleading with him in vain to ride – in this sector as the strength of Boonen’s effort was endorsed by the fact that the chasers didn’t easily recapture Terpstra.
Boonen’s problem was that he had five Sky’s behind him – but the man from Mol was into the next sector and showing no signs of weakness.
Bare hands on the tops, flat backed over the cobbles, on the drops on the macadam, this was bike racing in the manner of the greats.
Sector nine and still Boonen – in his tenth Paris-Roubaix – blasts on, as Alessandro Ballan (BMC) and Lars Boom (Rabobank) see the gap go to 40 seconds.
Sector nine with Boonen still rampant as Ian Stannard (Sky) digs deep in pursuit – but with Niki Terpstra glued to his wheel.
Stannard rocks, rolls, grimaces but the three time winner continues to pummel the pedals northwards, and second by second, adds to his advantage.
Stannard dies and ‘parks up’ as the gap goes to 48 seconds into sector seven – the dust flies, the spectator’s flags wave as Tommeke charges the ‘high line’ on the crown of the cobbles.
Hayman now for Sky with less than 30 K to go, the rest in the group look wasted; last year’s winner Vansummeren is there, but in body only.
Sector six and Boonen goes in with 59 seconds lead – Hayman continues to ride but he’s sore, sore.
And now it’s 25 K to go for Boonen as he blasts the sector and adds another three seconds.
Behind, it splits as Ballan shows face for BMC, Boom does a little but it’s left to Flecha – sore hand and all – to lead for Sky.
Team mate Boasson Hagen blows, he has a ways to go ‘til he lives up to that ‘next Eddy Merckx’ tag.
Boonen rests his forearms on the tops, the gear is huge as the gap goes to a neat 1:11.
Boom punctures, just inside 20 K as the Tornado thunders through sector five; ‘do your worst!’ he says to those cobbles!
Tosatto (Saxo) leads the chasers but they’re riding for second now, as Hayman drops his chain.
But Boom has found some grinta and attacks the group. But it must be too late – 17 K to go, sector four Carrefour de l’Arbre with the gap still at 1:11.
The fans are in ecstasy, this is worth the long wait in the cold – a cycling god on his throne of granite setts.
Boom is failing; Ballan, Flecha and Ladagnous (F des J) go through the motions just behind him.
Boonen is through sector three, he’s hurting as he exits the cobbles and those lovely 27mm FMB tubulars find smooth tar.
Ladagnous punctures – a shame, he’s ridden well.
The King of Belgium’s coronation procession goes on – every bit of his body hurts, his face is a mask of pain.
Flecha, Ballan and Boom are dead as the gap goes to 1:22 and Boonen cruises, forearms on the tops.
Wilfried Peeters comes up in the car to encourage his man – the QuickStep party will be a biggie, tonight.
He’s inside 10 K at sector two, flying, leg movement smooth, elbows wide thrashing that S-Works towards glory – 1:36 says the stop watch.
With six K to go he’s in time trial mode, back flat, less pain on his face; he puffs out those cheek as the five K banner flashes past.
The QuickStep car comes up again, Peeters beams – Tom smiles, gets out of the saddle, pumps the cranks and it’s three K to go as he waggles his finger at the camera.
Inside two K as he shows four fingers this time.
Sector one and he rides across his own name three times on the Espace Cruppeland where all the winners’ names are etched into the cobbles.
Right, right and right again – on to the velodrome and immortality.
The crowd know they’re watching history being made.
Boonen acknowledges their adulation, then rides into the arms of DS Peeters and his brother Sven.
Meanwhile, on the velodrome an excellent Turgot rejoins the leaders to steal second.
But as we said in our preview, ‘in a word’ – Boonen!
1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 5:55:22
2. Sйbastien Turgot (Fra) Team Europcar 0:01:39
3. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing Team
4. Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky Procycling
5. Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6. Lars Boom (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:43
7. Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:31
8. Mathew Hayman (Aus) Sky Procycling
9. Johan Vansummeren (Bel) Garmin – Barracuda
10. Maarten Wynants (Bel) Rabobank Cycling Team
11. Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha Team
12. Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
13. Grйgory Rast (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan 0:04:23
14. Thor Hushovd (Nor) BMC Racing Team
15. Taylor Phinney (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:04:37
16. Steve Chainel (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
17. Kevin Hulsmans (Bel) Farnese Vini – Selle Italia
18. Aleksejs Saramotins (Lat) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
19. Jimmy Casper (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
20. Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team