Plenty of riders can do well at Paris Roubaix. Tom Boonen is expected to.
Tom Boonen has moved to play down suggestions that he is the clear favorite to win the 110th Paris-Roubaix classic despite coming into the famous race in fantastic shape. With rival Fabian Cancellara falling and suffering a fractured collarbone, the 31-year-old Belgian emerged victorious in last Sunday's Tour of Flanders to take his overall victory tally for the season so far to eight.
Boonen also won last month's Ghent-Wevelgem, and now appears poised to equal compatriot Roger De Vlaeminck's record of four Paris-Roubaix victories. If he triumphs in Roubaix's famed velodrome on Sunday, he would also become the first rider to do the double of Flanders-Roubaix twice.It all amounts to a lot of pressure on Tornado Tom, but he insists the prospect of equaling De Vlaeminck's record can only help spur him on to victory.
Tom Boonen's new Specialized Roubaix.
"I would be lying if I were to say the prospect of winning for a fourth time did not interest me," he said. "We will see. This race always motivates me but that is definitely an extra source of motivation."
Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider Boonen held off Italian duo Filippo Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan in a sprint finish to win in Flanders, and he believes that duo will be serious contenders again here. I am perhaps one of the favourites but I am not the only one. Pozzato and Ballan showed during the Tour of Flanders that they are in great shape. They look really, really good at the moment. I am a little more explosive than them but you can never tell what is going to happen in a race like this.
It is always difficult."
The last Italian winner of the race known as the 'Hell of the North' was Andrea Tafi in 1999, but both Pozzato and Ballan have at least come close to winning, with Pozzato finishing second to Boonen in 2009 and Ballan twice coming third.
French hopes of a first win in 15 years may rest with Boonen's Omega Pharma teammate Sylvain Chavanel, who won last month's Three Days of La Panne in Belgium. However, having seen his compatriot Johan Van Summeren, of the Garmin-Barracuda team, triumph 12 months ago, Boonen will be aware that a winner could come from anywhere.
Cancellara may be missing, while Cadel Evans is not competing either, but Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha, Austria's Bernhard Eisel of Team Sky and Thor Hushovd - the Norwegian who was notably runner-up in 2010 - are other names to look out for in the race for the 30,000-euro ($39,000) winner's check.
"I think I can follow Tom on the cobbles and also I know that I can beat him in the sprint," a bullish Hushovd said. That's not that I say I can beat him every time but I think also he is afraid of me in a sprint on the velodrome."
Of course, many of those starting the grueling 257.5-km race may not make it to the finish at all, with the 27 separate cobbled sectors likely to take their toll. Crashes can be expected, especially if it is wet, and showers are forecast in northern France this weekend. However, Boonen for one is not overly concerned about that threat.
"It's not important if it rains or not. Either way, you need to be ready for battle. The weather conditions will not cause me any problems," he said.