By John Wilcockson
The nasty rain didn’t show up for the 106th Paris-Roubaix, but a superb Tom Boonen sure did.
On a Sunday of cool sunshine and favorable winds, the Quick Step team leader took his second Roubaix victory, three years after the first, with an unstoppable sprint over his final breakaway companions Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre).
“The win in 2005 was special,” Boonen said, “and it was at the end of a nice week when I had already won the Tour of Flanders. This one the sensation was nicer, the explosion of joy was a little more intense, because it was long ago since I won a race of this caliber.”
Second in 2005, but missing from the winning break this time, was an unlucky George Hincapie (High Road). The tall American said he was strong enough to have been with the winners until he ran into trouble. He was riding at the front on the Bersée section of cobblestones, 53km from the finish, and racing as well as he has ever ridden in the Hell of the North, when his rear wheel broke. “I had great legs,” Hincapie said, “but there was nothing I could do.”
The American’s disaster could not have happened at worse time, because it was right when his Austrian teammate Bernhard Eisel was setting a hard tempo at the front in order to break up the 30-strong lead group. And by the time Hincapie received a wheel change and began the long chase back, a sudden acceleration at the front saw eight riders break clear.
They were Boonen and his Quick Step teammate Stijn Devolder (who won last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders), CSC’s Cancellara and defending champion Stuart O’Grady, Silence-Lotto’s Leif Hoste and Johan Vansummeren, Lampre’s Ballan and — the big surprise of the day — Martijn Maaskant of Slipstream-Chipotle (see Fred Dreier’s story on the young Dutch sensation).
Once that eight-man breakaway disappeared through the dust of the next section of cobblestones, the twisting 3km stretch at Mons-en-Pévèle, the race was over for Hincapie and the other favorites who missed the move. These included Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha and Liquigas’s Filippo Pozzato — who both crashed before the earlier Forest of Arenberg section — and Slipstream’s Magnus Bäckstedt, who flatted both tires at the same point.
And so all the attention went to the eight men in front. The first to break out was Belgian champion Devolder, who sped away between huge crowds massed alongside the pavé with 48km left to race. Realizing that Boonen was getting a free ride, CSC’s O’Grady took a flyer from the back of the seven-man group, and quickly caught Devolder. With the Aussie in front, Cancellara could relax knowing that he had last year’s winner putting the pressure on Quick Step.
When Devolder and O’Grady were 15 seconds ahead as they passed the 40km to go mark, Hoste told his Silence teammate Vansummeren to close the gap. The lanky Vansummeren did a phenomenal job doing just that; but he put out so munch energy that by the time the two leaders sat up, the Silence team worker had to sit up himself, leaving Hoste to fend for himself.
It’s said that you have to survive on the cobblestones and make your attacks on the pavement in Paris-Roubaix. That was the case on the narrow, winding section of asphalt between pavé sectors 8 and 7, with 34km to go, when world time trial champion Cancellara burst clear and was immediately matched by Boonen and Ballan. It was obvious that this was the race, because both Boonen and Cancellara had teammates in the four-man “chase” group, which would end the day nearly four minutes adrift.
All three of the breakaways know the finishing kilometers of Paris-Roubaix as well as anyone. In fact, just two years ago, the podium was 1. Cancellara, 2. Boonen, 3. Ballan. The rugged Swiss rider won that race with a solo attack on the famous, slightly uphill section of cobblestones at the Carrefour de l’Arbre. He would try to repeat that performance at the same place on Sunday.
“Everyone was waiting for the Carrefour de l’Arbre,” Boonen said, “and when you make an attack on that section of cobblestones, you either win the race, or lose the race. So when we were still together at the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Cancellara made an attack, but it wasn’t very, very strong. Ballan also tried something, and after that I made a much stronger tempo than the others.”
Boonen added that his Swiss rival told him after the finish that he was dead, and that all his muscles were cramping up in the finale. Given Cancellara’s condition and Ballan’s obvious fatigue, there was no contest in the Roubaix velodrome. Going into the final banking, with 200 meters to go, Boonen simply stood on the pedals and didn’t look back until he crossed the finish line 20 meters ahead of Cancellara, with Ballan in third.
The big shock, of course, was that Maaskant, in his rookie season in the big leagues (he already placed 12th last week in Flanders), got away from O’Grady, Hoste and Devolder on the long run-in through the streets of Roubaix to claim a remarkable fourth place, albeit 3:39 behind Boonen. The modest Maaskant explained that he had saved his energy in the early part of the winning break, hoping that he would have the strength to do something at the end. “And I know this race because I did the under-23 edition three times,” he said. “That’s 100 Ks shorter but pretty much the same final.”
Eighteen seconds behind Slipstream’s Dutch secret, O’Grady out-sped Hoste and Devolder for fifth place, while Hincapie showed how fresh he still was — despite the long chase he had to make after breaking his wheel — by taking the sprint for ninth place ahead of Lampre veteran Fabio Baldato, former race winner Frédéric Guesdon (Française des Jeux) and Flecha.
Only 113 of the 198 riders officially finished the 259.5km classic and its 28 sections of pavé, which added up to 52.8km of bouncing across the loaf-sized cobblestones. One reason for the high attrition rate, despite the unexpectedly sunny weather, was the high speed. Blown by a brisk southerly breeze, the peloton covered 98km in the first two hours leading to the first section of pavé at Troisvilles.
Three riders broke clear 10km before that first cobblestone section: Russian Alexander Serov (Tinkoff), Dutchman Matthe Pronk (Cycle-Collstrop) and Belgian Jan Kuyckx (Landboukrediet). They gained a maximum lead of 5:30, a gap that was cut to 4:00 as they entered the fearsome Forest of Arenberg section, with 100km to go.
Crowds lined the whole 2.4km length of the Arenberg “trench,” where the High Road, Quick Step and CSC teams set a rapid tempo that broke apart the still large peloton. When 28 riders emerged in front at the other end of the Arenberg section, there were five riders from Quick Step, five from CSC, and three each from High Road and Silence-Lotto. After quickly absorbing the earlier three leaders, the teams of Boonen, Cancellara, Hincapie and Hoste controlled the situation until Hincapie hit his trouble and the eventual winners hit the gas.
Besides being a classic edition of Paris-Roubaix, it was also the fastest since the course was changed in 1968 to include the longer, rougher cobblestone sections that we now take for granted. Boonen’s winning average speed on Sunday was 43.406 kph; the race record is still held by Dutch legend Peter Post, who won the sprint at the velodrome in 1964 after averaging 45.129 kph.
That edition 44 years ago was on the traditional course, dating from 1896, which started in Paris and went to the wet via Amiens and Arras on its way to Roubaix. By 1964, there were few parts of the original cobblestones remaining, so Post and his breakaway companions flew along on smooth roads with a tail wind to achieve their remarkable record — they had only 10 gears back then, 22-pound alloy-steel bikes, and none of the razzmatazz enjoyed today by guys like Belgium’s national hero, big Tom Boonen.
1. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step, 259km in 5:58:42
2. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) CSC, at 0:01
3. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre, s.t.
4. Martin Maaskant, (Nl), Slipstream-Chipotle, at 3:39
5. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), CSC, at 3:57
6. Leif Hoste (B), Silence Lotto, s.t.
7. Stijn Devolder (B), Quick Step, at 3:59
8. Johann Van Summeren (B), Silence-Lotto, at 4:35
9. George Hincapie (USA), High Road, at 5:12
10. Fabio Baldato (I), Lampre, at 5:12
1. Tom Boonen (QUICK STEP) 5:58:42″
2. Fabian Cancellara (TEAM CSC) at 00:01″
3. Alessandro Ballan (LAMPRE) at 00:01″
4. Martijn Maaskant (SLIPSTREAM CHIPOTLE) at 03:39″
5. Stuart O’Grady (TEAM CSC) at 03:57″
6. Leif Hoste (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 03:57″
7. Stijn Devolder (QUICK STEP) at 03:59″
8. Johan Van Summeren (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 04:35″
9. George Hincapie (HIGH ROAD) at 05:12″
10. Fabio Baldato (LAMPRE) at 05:12″
11. Frédéric Guesdon (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 05:12″
12. Antonio Flecha Juan (RABOBANK) at 05:12″
13. Manuel Quinziato (LIQUIGAS) at 05:12″
14. Wim De Vocht (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 05:12″
15. Staf Scheirlinckx (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 05:12″
16. Marcus Ljungqvist (TEAM CSC) at 05:12″
17. Bernhard Eisel (HIGH ROAD) at 05:20″
18. Sven Krauss (GEROLSTEINER) at 07:18″
19. Steven De Jongh (QUICK STEP) at 07:18″
20. Matti Breschel (TEAM CSC) at 07:18″
21. Nick Nuyens (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 07:18″
22. Antoniobil Fischer Murilo (LIQUIGAS) at 07:18″
23. Roger Hammond (HIGH ROAD) at 07:18″
24. Wouter Weylandt (QUICK STEP) at 07:18″
25. Christophe Mengin (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 07:18″
26. Ralf Grabsch (TEAM MILRAM) at 07:20″
27. Greg Van Avermaet (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 07:20″
28. Steffen Wesemann (CYCLE COLLSTROP) at 07:27″
29. Tom Veelers (SKIL-SHIMANO) at 07:34″
30. Markus Eichler (TEAM MILRAM) at 07:39″
31. Baden Cooke (BARLOWORLD) at 11:08″
32. Martin Elmiger (AG2R-LA MONDIALE) at 11:26″
33. Allan Johansen (TEAM CSC) at 11:26″
34. Servais Knaven (HIGH ROAD) at 11:34″
35. Aurélien Clerc (BOUYGUES TELECOM) at 11:44″
36. Jimmy Casper (AGRITUBEL) at 11:44″
37. Kurt-Asle Arvesen (TEAM CSC) at 11:44″
38. Jimmy Engoulvent (CREDIT AGRICOLE) at 11:44″
39. Nico Eeckhout (TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN) at 11:46″
40. Styn Vandenbergh (AG2R-LA MONDIALE) at 11:46″
41. David Boucher (LANDBOUWKREDIET – TÖNISSTEINER) at 11:46″
42. Kevin Neyrinck (LANDBOUWKREDIET – TÖNISSTEINER) at 11:46″
43. Sébastien Hinault (CREDIT AGRICOLE) at 11:55″
44. Matthé Pronk (CYCLE COLLSTROP) at 12:11″
45. Jan Kuyckx (LANDBOUWKREDIET – TÖNISSTEINER) at 13:56″
46. Paolo Fornaciari (LAMPRE) at 13:56″
47. Filip Meirhaeghe (LANDBOUWKREDIET – TÖNISSTEINER) at 15:42″
48. Kurt Hovelynck (TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN) at 15:42″
49. Filippo Pozzato (LIQUIGAS) at 15:42″
50. Laszlo Bodrogi (CREDIT AGRICOLE) at 15:42″
51. Matteo Tosatto (QUICK STEP) at 15:42″
52. Alexandre Pichot (BOUYGUES TELECOM) at 15:42″
53. Frederik Willems (LIQUIGAS) at 15:42″
54. Pedro Horrillo (RABOBANK) at 16:48″
55. Joaquin Rojas Jose (CAISSE D’EPARGNE) at 16:48″
56. Robert Wagner (SKIL-SHIMANO) at 16:48″
57. Tyler Farrar (SLIPSTREAM CHIPOTLE) at 16:48″
58. Heinrich Haussler (GEROLSTEINER) at 16:48″
59. Kristof Goddaert (TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN) at 16:48″
60. Vicente Garcia Acosta (CAISSE D’EPARGNE) at 16:48″
61. Steven Caethoven (AGRITUBEL) at 16:48″
62. Christian Knees (TEAM MILRAM) at 16:48″
63. Erki PÜtsep (BOUYGUES TELECOM) at 16:48″
64. Luciano Pagliarini (SAUNIER DUVAL – SCOTT) at 16:48″
65. Peter Wrolich (GEROLSTEINER) at 16:48″
66. Gabriel Rasch (CREDIT AGRICOLE) at 16:48″
67. Christopher Sutton (SLIPSTREAM CHIPOTLE) at 16:48″
68. Nicolas Portal (CAISSE D’EPARGNE) at 16:48″
69. Imanol Erviti (CAISSE D’EPARGNE) at 16:48″
70. Wilfried Cretskens (QUICK STEP) at 16:48″
71. Markel Irizar (EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI) at 16:48″
72. Martin MÜller (TEAM MILRAM) at 16:48″
73. Frank Hoj (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 16:48″
74. Mathieu Drujon (CAISSE D’EPARGNE) at 16:48″
75. Sebastian Lang (GEROLSTEINER) at 16:48″
76. Aleksandr Kuschynski (LIQUIGAS) at 16:48″
77. Franck Renier (BOUYGUES TELECOM) at 16:48″
78. Cédric Coutouly (AGRITUBEL) at 16:48″
79. Koen Barbe (TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN) at 16:48″
80. Paolo Longo Borghini (BARLOWORLD) at 16:55″
81. Pieter Vanspeybrouck (TOPSPORT VLAANDEREN) at 16:55″
82. Geoffroy Lequatre (AGRITUBEL) at 16:55″
83. Matthieu Ladagnous (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 16:57″
84. Massimiliano Mori (LAMPRE) at 16:57″
85. Danilo Napolitano (LAMPRE) at 16:57″
86. Mickaël Delage (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 16:57″
87. Yoann Offredo (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 16:57″
88. Ian Stannard (LANDBOUWKREDIET – TÖNISSTEINER) at 16:57″
89. Fabio Sabatini (TEAM MILRAM) at 16:57″
90. Marco Marcato (CYCLE COLLSTROP) at 16:57″
91. José Oroz Juan (EUSKALTEL – EUSKADI) at 16:57″
92. Mathieu Heijboer (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 16:57″
93. Wim Vansevenant (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 16:57″
94. Marco Bandiera (LAMPRE) at 16:57″
95. Floris Goesinnen (SKIL-SHIMANO) at 16:57″
96. Yannick Talabardon (CREDIT AGRICOLE) at 16:57″
97. Hervé Duclos-lassalle (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 17:03″
98. Rick Flens (RABOBANK) at 17:03″
99. Jan Boven (RABOBANK) at 17:03″
100. Renaud Dion (AG2R-LA MONDIALE) at 17:03″
101. Raul Alarcon Garcia (SAUNIER DUVAL – SCOTT) at 17:07″
102. Joost Posthuma (RABOBANK) at 17:07″
103. Niki Terpstra (TEAM MILRAM) at 17:07″
104. Tom Leezer (RABOBANK) at 17:07″
105. Sébastien Minard (COFIDIS CREDIT PAR TELEPHONE) at 17:07″
106. Arnaud Gerard (FRANCAISE DES JEUX) at 17:07″
107. Vincent Jerome (BOUYGUES TELECOM) at 17:07″
108. Roy Sentjens (SILENCE – LOTTO) at 17:07″
109. Mikhail Ignatiev (TINKOFF CREDIT SYSTEMS) at 18:53″
110. Emilien-Benoît Berges (AGRITUBEL) at 19:21″
111. Mikel Gaztanaga (AGRITUBEL) at 19:21″
112. Christophe Laurent (SLIPSTREAM CHIPOTLE) at 19:21″
113. Matt Hayman (Rabobank), 29:35
198 starters, 113 finishers.