What's Cool In Road Cycling

Double High-Five For The Lion of Flanders

– PCN exclusive report on the 100th edition of Paris – Roubaix –

Some champions are the silent kind, some athletes are loudmouths. Johan Museeuw has both personalities. The Lion of Flanders, being the emotional man he is, announced his immediate retirement only a week ago when he came in second after Tafi in his home Tour of Flanders.

But when Johan gets frustated, the rest of the peloton knows he will roar again. Today, he won his 3rd Paris-Roubaix, his 10th (!) ever World Cup race and he gets to wear the leader’s vertical rainbow jersey at least until Liege-Bastogne-Liege, where he will participate.

Belgium’s most celebrated active coureur had already put himself in a row with Van Looy, Van Steenbergen, De Vlaeminck and Merckx years ago. Today the comeback man achieved definite legendary status, acknowledged by no one less than Mr Paris-Roubaix, four time record holder Roger de Vlaeminck. Roger, co-commentator with Belgian tv, kept respectfully
silent for minutes in a row as Museeuw entered the Roubaix stadium, spreading first his left hand up in the air, then his right: count to 10, I just broke a record!

And what a stunning victory it was. The 100th Paris-Roubaix got a champion that fit under circumstances that fit. Led by his all-time sideman and best friend Wilfried Peeters, now his peer from the car.
Peeters retired only months ago and should have won last year’s Paris-Roubaix when teammate Servais Knaven got the upper hand. This time, the Domo team had even more blue on the cobbled roads of France.
Cassani, Knaven, Rodriguez and a remarkably fresh Van Heeswijk were there to lead the King to his throne.

But that didn’t stop Johan from being the first and last attacker, leaving the group of 12 at a risky 40 kms from the Roubaix Velodrome. In the end, his teammates never even had to stop the others. They just
couldn’t go any faster. A smaller group with George Hincapie, excellent dutchie Hoffman, Steffen Wesemann, Max Sciandri, Nico Mattan and Hans de
Clercq started their pursuit.

And there was a Belgian rookie named Tom Boonen. The 21-year old helper for George Hincapie turned out to become George’s guide. Having been in the lead in another group for 180 kilometers, Boonen didn’t stop when he was overtaken, and put him self right in front of the followers, Hincapie behind him. And that was their luck, because when Coast’s Lars Michaelsen
fell down in 3rd place, the rest of the group was stopped for a crucial couple of seconds. Boonen and Hincapie got through allright, trying to close the gap with Museeuw. But Museeuw was definitely not going to give this one away. With 30 kms to go, his lead was already 35 seconds. And he was going faster still: he would finish with a 3 minute lead.

And then Hincapie came to fall. Now the oldest Lion was pursued by the youngest. An incredible performance by young Tom, who had already
impressed anyone who had seen him ride these past weeks. Not only does he ride his bike with grace, he is as eloquent as he is stylish, and already tough enough for the final of any World Cup race. This is no wannabe:
this guy is true champion material.

Just minutes before the finish, Telekom’s Steffen Wesemann caught up with Boonen. On the Roubaix track, he tricked his less experienced counterpart
into the lead position, making him loose the sprint. A minor stain on the youngsters record. So Wesemann 2nd, Boonen 3rd in his first Paris-Roubaix. De Vlaeminck again: “I came in fifth in my first Roubaix,
so this guy is definitely very promising!”

On stage, Museeuw spoke similar words. “My successor is now known” said the Lion King to little Simba. Simba might have blushed under his muddy
face, but we have already heard him roar.

Robert van Willigenburg

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