GENT, Belgium (VN) — Two eternal also-rans are hoping for breakthrough rides, and not another heartbreak, on the cobbles Sunday at Paris-Roubaix.
Astana’s Lars Boom and Sep Vanmarcke of LottoNL – Jumbo have been banging on the Roubaix door the past couple of years. Hope springs eternal, so the saying goes, and it’s that time of year to pump their chances.
“I feel better than I ever have coming into the classics,” Boom said. “Roubaix suits me better than Flanders. I really think I can be up there for the victory this year.”
Said Vanmarcke: “I feel confident and I’m looking forward to this race. I want to play a key role another time to deliver another great result.”
Perhaps that sounds a bit like a broken record, but what else could they say? As their respective team captains, they have been working all winter for this big week. Following encouraging results last weekend at the Tour of Flanders for both riders, no one should be looking past either of them for the win.
Vanmarcke rode an extraordinary Flanders last weekend to bolster his confidence coming into Roubaix. The 27-year-old Belgian overcame an early crash and bike change at 120km to bridge over to the decisive move when Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski and winner Peter Sagan of Tinkoff powered away just after the Taainenberg. He stayed with Sagan over the Oude Kwaremont but got gapped on the Paterberg. Vanmarcke wisely collaborated with the chasing Fabian Cancellara of Trek – Segafredo to assure himself his second Flanders podium in three years.
Sunday’s Roubaix should suit him even better. Some consider Vanmarcke the smoothest over the cobbles, and his Flanders ride confirms he’s back to his best the peloton saw in 2013 and 2014, when he finished second and fourth in Roubaix, respectively. Last year’s classics campaign was wrought with problems, so he’s hoping for a smooth ride Sunday.
“What we learned from Sunday is that Sep was one of the best in the race,” LottoNL sport director Nico Verhoeven said. “And the race didn’t go so smooth, with two crashes and a bike change. Roubaix might suit him even better than Flanders.”
Boom, meanwhile, is equally as optimistic that this year he can deliver the breakout performance many have expected from the former world cyclocross champion. Now 30, Boom won the wild Tour de France stage across the pavé in 2014 and just missed the Roubaix podium last year with fourth.
Like Vanmarcke, Boom overcame obstacles Sunday at Flanders to finish a solid 11th. A puncture before the Taainenberg forced him to chase back to the front group, leaving him at his limits just moments before the Sagan move formed.
Both Vanmarcke and Boom have the requisite depth, experience, and strength to go the distance on the cobblestones at Roubaix. Both have already proven they can bang shoulders with the favorites, and each desperately wants a victory in cycling’s hardest race.
Their handicap? Both have decent teams, but what neither brings is a strong finishing kick. If they’re in a group with riders such as Sagan, Cancellara, or Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff, both will come up short. Last year, Boom rode in with the winning group, but winner John Degenkolb, Zdenek Stybar, and Greg Van Avermaet came around him for the podium.
“The best way for Lars to win Roubaix is to finish alone,” Astana sport director Stefano Zanini said. “Of course, everyone wants to finish alone! You have to be the strongest.”