One morning last summer, the ninth of July to be exact, Lars Boom (Astana) woke to the sound of raindrops battering the plains of northern France and Belgium and rubbed his hands. That day, the Tour de France would set out from Ypres in Belgium and tackle 13 sections of treacherous cobblestones, or pavé, en route to a stage finish at the mouth of the infamous Arenberg Forest.
Boom delivered a convincing win on that day, and now, he heads into Paris-Roubaix, hoping to find glory on the pavé yet again.
Sixth in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, Boom has fully recovered from crashes at E3 Harelbeke and Dwars Door Vlaanderen to rediscover his best form ahead of Paris-Roubaix.
“I’m happy with my sixth place in Flanders,” Boom said. “When Niki Terpstra and Alexander Kristoff went away, I thought about changing my bike because one of my tyres was deflating slightly. But my performance bodes well for Paris-Roubaix. There’s still some hip pain left over from my crash in Dwars Door Vlaanderen, but I’ve been able to put the finishing touches to my preparation for Paris-Roubaix.”
A former cyclocross world champion, Boom had competed in five editions of Paris-Roubaix, each of them in dry weather, unlike stage 5 of the Tour last year.
In his debut in 2010, he finished outside the time limit. The next year he showed promise with a 12th place, then followed that up with 6th in 2012, and 14th in 2013. Last year was a disappointing result: 37th.
“My cyclocross experience definitely helped me to win that stage,” he said, speaking of the Tour’s stage 5, when he finally succeeded on the pavé. “That’s where I learned the right technique for handling a bike in muddy conditions. A wet Paris-Roubaix would definitely give me an advantage. I’m more confident than most riders in those conditions. Having said that, I barely ride any cyclocross anymore, which is also why I’m not as good as I once was in time trials. I haven’t done any cyclocross over the last two winters; my focus has been on training camps and the early season stage races [Tour Down Under, Dubai Tour, and Tour of Qatar], also because the general standard on the cyclocross scene has gone up a lot. I couldn’t even contend for the Dutch cyclocross championship now, with Lars van der Haar and Mathieu van der Poel riding. The intensity of cyclocross races now would bring me into form much too quickly in the year, given that my main priority is the classics.”
Having signed for Astana in the winter, Boom, 29, knows that he’ll most likely be employed as Vincenzo Nibali’s guard dog when the Tour peloton hits the pavé in July. It’s no surprise that he wants to seize his opportunity to take a leadership role on Sunday.
“You can win Paris-Roubaix riding for any team,” he said. “Etixx-Quick-Step isn’t the only team in the race. You just need a bit of luck, which I haven’t had up until now in Paris-Roubaix. I know the cobbled sectors perfectly, their names and their numbers, because I’ve even studied them myself, outside of the route recon with the team. I don’t care how I win, although I’d love to ride into the velodrome alone, having attacked and got away on the Carrefour de l’Arbre.”
It may be pure coincidence that ‘Boom’ meets ‘tree’ in Dutch … like ‘arbre’ in French. Or perhaps it really is an omen.