Tom Boonen unleashed a bold and self-confessed “crazy” move with more than 50km to go to claim a brilliant, record-equaling fourth victory in the Paris-Roubaix classic on Sunday.
Boonen pulled clear 57km from the finish of the Queen of the Classics and never looked back to emulate fellow-Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck, who won four times in the 1970s.
Frenchman Sebastien Turgot, who was on the attack all day, finished second, outsprinting Italian Alessandro Ballan on the Roubaix velodrome.
“It was a little bit crazy. It’s not a move than I often do, but today was the perfect day to take some risk,” said Boonen, who showed four fingers as he crossed the line, his face a mixture of joy and pain.
“It’s my greatest [Paris-Roubaix] win. Claiming the fourth in such manner is just great,” he said.
“[When I pulled away] I was not really thinking about winning the race, I was just fighting, taking it step by step, coblestone by conbblestone, kilometer by kilometer,” said Boonen, now the only man to have achieved a Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double twice in the same year.
In the absence of Fabian Cancellara, who could not take part in the race after he broke his collarbone in the Tour of Flanders, 2005 world champion Boonen was the hot favorite and he duly delivered in the Hell of the North.
With nobody in the early 12-man breakaway, BMC and Team Sky were forced to do all the work in front of the peloton, while Boonen’s Omega Pharma Quick Step team, who had Guillaume van Keirsbulck among the leaders, sat comfortably in the pack.
Italian Filippo Pozzato, second in Flanders on April 1, was dropped after a massive crash split the main bunch in three with about 115km left. He fought his way back later.
Among those trapped was Frederic Guesdon, the last Frenchman to win Paris-Roubaix in 1997, who is taking part in the race for a record-equaling 17th time despite sustaining a hip fracture earlier this year.
At the beginning of the Trouee d’Arenberg, with hundreds of spectators on the right and mud on the left making it impossible to ride on the side of the road, Boonen and Thor Hushovd were among the first in the peloton to enter the feared cobbled section about two minutes behind the leaders.
Veteran George Hincapie, also in his 17th Paris-Roubaix and a runner-up in 2005, could not follow the pace, but his BMC Racing teammate, Alessandro Ballan, third in 2006 and 2008, was in a six-man counter attacking group that also featured Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha with less than 80km to go.
The Ballan group opened a 25-second lead, but Boonen’s teammate Geert Steegmans reined them in 68km from the finish.
After joining the breakaway group, Boonen and Pozzato accelerated with 57km left.
However, Pozzato could not sustain the pace and Boonen was eventually accompanied by his Dutch teammate Niki Terpstra, who was dropped in the Auchy-lez-Orchies cobbled section.
Pozzato then crashed and eventually dropped out of contention as Flecha counter attacked 48km from the line.
He quickly built a 30-second gap despite Team Sky’s effort to catch him and the chasers’ chances were effectively over when Boonen’s lead reached a minute with about 20km remaining.