From stage wins in Qatar to the cobbles of France, what a year it has been so far for Tom Boonen as he recorded his 118th Pro win in sheer & absolute dominating style.
What a day for Belgium. Not only did Tom Boonen dominate, no, decimate the field at Paris Roubaix for a fourth time, but on the other side of the globe at the world track championships held in Australia, the Belgian duo of Kenny De Ketele and Gijs Van Hoecke combined to secure the Madison crown.
But, what we care about most here is Tom Boonen and the cobbles of Paris Roubaix and Tom Boonen's remarkable run of form continued on Sunday as he became only the second rider to win the Paris-Roubaix classic for a fourth time. The 31-year-old Belgian made his break with 55 kilometres of the famous race remaining, and left his rivals trailing in his wake as he crossed the line 1min 39sec ahead of Frenchman Sebastien Turgot. Italy's Alessandro Ballan was edged into third place.
Having already won at Roubaix's famous velodrome in 2005, 2008 and 2009, Boonen's latest triumph sees him equal the record for the most victories in the Queen of the Classics, held by his compatriot Roger de Vlaeminck, a four-time winner in the 1970s.
Boonen also becomes the first man to do the double of the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix twice, having also achieved the feat in 2005, and he admitted afterwards that the manner of his triumph makes this one of his best yet.
"I think today was one of the best days in my career. Normally I have to use my sprint in races like this and it is always much safer to save some energy for the finish," he said. "Because if you put everything into the break and you get caught then you will be in trouble. But being a little bit older I tried not to panic and pushed it as hard as I could. It was a little bit crazy. It is not something I often do, but I think today was the perfect day to take a risk. I just thought, I already have Flanders, so why not try to get a fourth Paris-Roubaix as well. With the wind it was not easy, and I might have been in trouble if a rider like Filippo Pozzato had been able to catch me coming into the Carrefour de l'Arbre, but once I had a minute's lead I realised that I could do it."
Try as they might, the chase group was unable to bridge up to Boonen after he turned up his turbo boost!
The wind apart, the rather tame weather conditions had rendered the 110th edition of the Queen of the Classics less treacherous than it might otherwise have been. However, a 12-man breakaway group - which led by over four minutes at one point - came to grief following a crash at the entrance to the tricky Arenberg cobbled sector, just over 80 km from the finish.
Arenberg is one of the toughest of the 27 different cobbled stretches that puncture the route of this race as it winds its way north through the countryside from Compiegne. Despite the difficulty of the course, few leading riders fell by the wayside, with Pozzato - considered before the race to be Boonen's most likely challenger - the biggest name to abandon.
Norway's Thor Hushovd saw his hopes hit when he went down with just under 60 km to go, and Boonen then broke away from a group controlled by Team Sky, before continuing to extend his lead despite seeing Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Niki Terpstra drop off the furious pace being set by the Belgian.
Boonen's lead soon topped one minute, and he arrived well clear of his rivals to take the acclaim of the crowds at the packed Roubaix velodrome. His win is the 55th by a Belgian in what is arguably the toughest of all the spring classics. Turgot, of Team Europcar, gave the French crowds something to celebrate as he edged out Ballan in a sprint for second place, while Juan Antonio Flecha of Spain took fourth place.
And how about a shout-out for top American finisher Taylor Phinney in his first Pro showing art Paris Roubaix (has has won twice as an Espoir)
1. Tom Boonen (BEL/OPQ) 5hr 55min 22sec, 2. Sebastien Turgot (FRA/EUC) at 1:39, 3. Alessandro Ballan (ITA/BMC) 1:39, 4. Juan Antonio Flecha (ESP/SKY) 1:39, 5. Niki Terpstra (NED/OPQ) 1:39, 6. Lars Boom (NED/RAB) 1:43, 7. Matteo Tosatto (ITA/SAX) 3:31, 8. Mathew Hayman (AUS/SKY) 3:31, 9. Johan Vansummeren (BEL/GRM) 3:31, 10. Maarten Wynants (BEL/RAB) 3:31 11. Luca Paolini (ITA/KAT) 3:31, 12. Matthieu Ladagnous (FRA/FDJ) 3:31, 13. Grégory Rast (SUI/RSH) 4:23, 14. Thor Hushovd (NOR/BMC) 4:23, 15. Taylor Phinney (USA/BMC) 4:37
OMEGA PHARMA-QUICKSTEP TEAM REPORT
Tom Boonen won his fourth Paris-Roubaix (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012) on Sunday, after riding solo for 50km out of 257.5km. He also earned the second "double" of his career. Boonen is the only rider in men's road racing history to win Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in the same season twice. Boonen is also the only rider to have won all four of the "cobbled" races —E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix — in one season.
"I was not really thinking about these records or these victories," Boonen said. "I was really working hard to be on my top level these two or three weeks. I was already happy to have reached this level and I didn't have any big crashes this year so far. When I started winning Harelbeke I knew I would be good for others. When I look back on these two or three weeks, it's been amazing. It's my second double and I realize now I am the only one who did this 'double' two times. I realize now I am maybe be the best guy to ever ride on these cobblestones, on these roads. It's special, but think I need some time. My career isnt over yet."
Boonen managed to hold off a powerful chasing group of Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing Team), Sebastien Turgot (Europcar), Lars Boom (Rabobank), and Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ-Big Mat), who decided to commit to a chase in the final 24km after a larger chase group failed to organize.
"I was not really thinking about the winning race or doing a record," Boonen said. "I was just fighting myself. I was taking it step by step, cobblestone by cobblestone, kilometer by kilometer. I think if you start thinking about the 60 or 57 km, which is when I left, it's nearly impossible. It is all in your mind. I was really thinking about my lead. With the gap at 30 seconds I was trying to take it second by second. I was trying not to push it right away to one minute, tried not to force myself. It was the best way to save my strength and put all my strength into the 50km in front of me. I think it was the best option."
Boonen's teammate Niki Terpstra, who attacked with Boonen at 56km but could sustain the effort, was also in the chase group with Ballan and four others.
"I was not planning on this," Boonen said of his solo win. "But when I arrived in front with Niki and he dropped off, I was thinking 'OK, I already have Flanders. Why not try to win my fourth Paris-Roubaix in a very special way?' I started battling myself. The wind was not really helpful, but with 30 seconds I thought 'OK, it's also hard for everyone else'." I was only afraid there was a fresh rider coming, like Pippo Pozzato or Ballan."
Boom tried to chase solo in the final 20km, reducing the gap from 1'14" to 1'09" with 14.9km to go. However, Boom couldn't sustain the chase and was reeled in by the Ballan group. Ladagnous suffered a puncture and dropped from the chase. Boonen expanded his gap to more than 1'30" in the final 10km, and in the last kilometers, Boonen gave the hand signal for the number four, to signify his four Paris-Roubaix wins. Boonen said he had only one thought on his mind at that time: His girlfriend, Lore.
"I was thinking a lot about my girlfriend who is working on our house," Boonen said. "I thought about her a lot during the final and this victory is for her."
Boonen coasted through his two laps at the velodrome, again giving the hand signal for the number four. Meanwhile Terpstra took 5th in the chase group sprint. Turgot took 2nd, beating Ballan (3rd) in a bike throw.
"The velodrome finish line, it's the only one where you can do two laps where all the people are," Boonen said of the unique Paris-Roubaix finish. "It's the only finish line where you have one kilometer where you can bond with the people that are there. It's just just such a special race. Paris-Roubaix, only one race like it in the world. A race like this needs a special finish. I think changing this finish line would be very stupid. It's almost more Paris-Roubaix — finishing here — than the cobblestones. I was really enjoying my two laps."
The entire team contributed during the race. Guillaume Van Keirsbulck made a 12 rider break at km 70, but was taken out by a rider while riding through the Arenberg. Sylvain Chavanel did incredible work chasing down breaks, and also was in a four rider break with 66kms to go. However, he punctured with 58.1km to go, having to get his rear wheel replaced. He still battled with a chase group, which was about two minutes behind a select group of 30-40 riders. Boonen and Terpstra attacked shortly after Chavanel punctured. Gert Steegmans and Stijn Vandenbergh were both seen working at the front to chase down breaks during the race.
This is the 30th victory for Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team in three disciplines. Tom Boonen, who moved into first place in UCI WorldTour standings last week with his Ronde van Vlaanderen victory, increases his lead in the individual classification. The team is also ranked number one in UCI WorldTour standings.
"I just love it," Boonen said of bike racing. "I never, ever have problems finding motivation to train. Although, it has not been easy. It's my 11th year as a pro, there is always ups and downs, but never problems training. I like it, and I really do it for these races. These are the ones I love. Paris-Roubaix is one of the hardest one day races. Flanders and Paris-Roubaix both are difficult. The moment I start to feel tired, and not training, then it's time to stop. But I think the last few years I've found more love for the bike and I'm not losing it. I think it's getting easier getting older."