Spring classics review: Boonen makes history
The undoubted star of this year’s spring classics campaign was Tom Boonen, who in breaking records galore confirmed himself, if it wasn’t already clear, as one of the all time greats. The Belgian has always had star quality, being charming, handsome and easygoing with the press. Most importantly he has the talent to match, and in 2005 he came became the first cyclist in history to win the hat-trick of the Tour Of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix at the World Championships – arguably the three most prestigious one-day races on the calendar, at least for Flanderian like Boonen – and he enjoyed continued success in subsequent years. But more recently he has suffered a dip in form, as well as endured problems with cocaine use. Many doubted if we’d ever see him back at his best.
This year however he enjoyed his most dominant display in the spring classics to date, becoming the first rider in history to win the quadruple of the key Spring cobblestone races E3 Harelbeke, Gent–Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Paris–Roubaix. Though they share similar characteristics and suit heavier riders like Boonen, to win all four is an exceptional achievement as often riders hold back in the earlier races to save themselves for the latter two –10662 which as monuments are more prestigious - as maintaining top form and committing yourself to going for consecutive races is these days perceived as nearly impossible.
Boonen raced throughout as if he had a point to prove, never more so than at Paris-Roubaix. A week earlier his main rival Fabian Cancellara crashed out early on, leaving Boonen to take a relatively comfortable victory ahead of Fillip Pozzato and Alessandro Ballan. The race had expected to be a battle royal between the two heavyweights, but upon Cancellara’s crash there were mumblings that Tommeke, as he is nicknamed, would not have won were his great rival to have contested.
At Paris-Roubaix however, he put such doubts to bed. Instead of simply sitting on his rivals’ wheels and beating them in the sprint, as had brought his victory in the previous races, the Belgian launched a solo attack over fifty kilometers from the finish line in the bold fashion we’d associate with Cancellara, and was so strong that none of his rivals, despite all working together, could not catch him. The win was Boonen’s record-equaling fourth at the race known as ‘the hell of the north’ and his best to date. It is difficult to see how Cancellara, or anyone for that matter, could have beaten him that day.