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Tom Boonen: Monsieur Paris-Roubaix

Tom Boonen comes into his 14th and final Paris-Roubaix with the objective of wrapping up his career this Sunday with a fifth title. Since the start of the 20th Century, the Queen of the Classics and the King of the cobbles have enjoyed a special relationship. Let’s take one last look at “Tomeke’s” extraordinary success in the Hell of the North, in images and with the reactions of the era taken from the L’Equipe archives…

2002 – A podium for “the lion cub”
Just a few months earlier, the youngster from Antwerp had turned professional and is now riding in the race of his dreams for the first time, in service of team leader George Hincapie, who crashes late in the race. Boonen does not and goes on to finish third behind Johan Museeuw and Steffen Wesemann. The rider who immediately earned the nickname of “the lion cub”, in reference to the winner on the day, was very aware the future was his: ”Late in the race, the Flemish spectators where whistling at me because I was riding behind Museeuw. I will not forget that and I will remind them when I grow up.”

2005 – The consecration, at the age of 24
“Tomeke” has clearly grown up. He won two stages in his maiden Tour de France and just came off winning the Tour of Flanders, as he confirms his supremacy in dominating all his Paris-Roubaix rivals, edging out Hincapie and Flecha in a sprint finish for the victory. When he is told he will have an exceptional future on the cobbled classics, he accepts the compliment with a clever twist: ”I want to win every year, but clearly not over the span of 14 years.”

2006 – The duel begins with Cancellara
Tom Boonen is the overwhelming Paris-Roubaix favourite! Each time the prognostication is stated as a given, but the Belgian now shares top billing with Fabian Cancellara, an extraordinary rider whose size and race craft are ideally suited for the demands of the cobblestone sectors. And on this day, Tom is beaten by his Swiss rival, as well as Hoste, Van Petegem and Grusev, but he inherits second place following the disqualification of the aforementioned three. Despite his world championship jersey, in which he had just won his second consecutive Tour of Flanders, he showed that he knows how to be a graceful loser: “I am lacking that final 1% to be in it for the win and, sometimes, that is what makes the difference.”

2008 – The response to the critics
Boonen is still Boonen, but his image has lost some of its lustre. Off form on the Tour of Flanders, some are saying he is close to being on the decline. Cancellara has the wind at his back…. yet the Quick Step leader takes the upper hand in their rivalry. As he descends from the podium, he delights in describing the end of the race: “After the Carrefour de l’Arbre, everyone has to test their adversaries. Ballan attempted half-heartedly, then Cancellara. He didn’t impress me and I could see that Fabian wasn’t on form. All that was left for me to do was come into the velodrome in the last position. I know the pressure; this was not my first race. But this time I really wanted to deliver a clear and decisive response to the critics.”

2009 – A brace worth a treble
The quality of the scenario adds prestige to the record book entries. Tom Boonen defends his title and adds a third cobble to his trophies. He emerges victorious from a day of extremes, where he crashed like his rivals, but held on firmly to his bike in the final stretch to enter the velodrome for the first time alone: “This is pure happiness; I had to battle against bad luck. Here, where anyone could have given up, I battled like a mad man. This Paris-Roubaix, I won with just a leg and a half. Arriving solo into the velodrome was a very powerful emotion… the hair on my arm is still standing on end.”

2011 – The only time he withdrew
Over the last 15 editions of Paris-Roubaix, rare has it been when Tom Boonen hasn’t weighed on the race he has finished 11 times in the Top 10 with just one retirement. The mechanical problems continue just until Tom Boonen pulls out of the race in the Trouée d’Arenberg, where he usually begins his attacks. When the pill is bitter to swallow, we invoke rotten luck: “It was like getting punched in the mouth and our team had more than its fair share of bad luck. I had just put the chain back in place but then it violently snapped. Then, my drink bottle got stuck in the rear wheel, which threw me to the ground. It was the second bike I broke. It was too much.”

2012 – A stroke of madness for number four
It is with an Eddy Merckx inspired breakaway that Tom Boonen attacks, first with team mate Niki Tepstra, at 55 kilometres from the finish. And he needed all of them to set off on the assault of the record of Roger De Vlaeminck, who was a rival of the Cannibal in the 1970’s. At the finish, the new co-record holder for victories doesn’t hide his pleasure: “At the time, I thought to myself that it was a little crazy to try something like that. You have to be mad to head toward the velodrome by yourself. But there was a fourth triumph waiting for me. And that is what it is all about.”

2016 – So close to the Grail
Injured on Paris-Nice in 2015 and thus unable to ride in the Spring Classics, Boonen makes his return in his race, but he comes in winless so far in this start to the season. For his challenge to take his fifth success and become the sole record holder, he is right in the thick of it in the final stretch and enters the velodrome along with the sprinters known to be slower than him, Hayman, Stannard, Vanmarcke and Boasson-Hagen. But it’s the Australian who takes the win and Boonen is as always the good sport : “This is really emotional but it may be even more in the next few days. For sure, it is just a bicycle race and to finish second isn’t too bad, especially Paris-Roubaix. But I came up short in taking a fifth win.” The last chance is Sunday.

Teaser Officiel – Paris-Roubaix 2017 por tourdefrance

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