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Boonen: Roubaix won with balls, not plans

Tom Boonen is all-in for bid for history in Roubaix, hoping that his experience in the cobbled classic will deliver record fifth victory.

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GENT, Belgium (VN) — Tom Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step) sounds defiant as he targets a record fifth Paris-Roubaix after yet another season coming back from injury.

Some are counting out the 35-year-old Belgian superstar as too old, too injured, and too slow to fend off Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) or Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). Those pundits could be very wrong.

Chasing form since yet another crash last October, one that left him partially deaf, Boonen is going all-in for Sunday’s Roubaix.

“You don’t need a plan to win Paris-Roubaix,” Boonen said Friday at a press conference. “You need balls.”

With four cobblestone trophies at home, he’s got nothing to lose. At this stage of his career, a record fifth Roubaix title is the only thing that counts. In a video released this week, Boonen said, “Winning a record fifth Roubaix is the only thing that keeps me racing.”

It’s been a rough spring for Boonen, however, and he described his comeback from his crash in October’s Abu Dhabi Tour as “the hardest of my career.” Boonen said he’s ready to throw caution to the wind Sunday, and do whatever it takes to win Roubaix for the first time since 2012.

“The day is coming that I’ve been waiting for,” Boonen said. “It’s the day that I’ve been looking forward to since I restarted my training this winter. I don’t know if I’m at my absolute best, but I’m at my best possible level now.”

That could be enough. Roubaix is unique. It’s a race that also requires a lot of luck, avoiding bad luck, and exploiting the bad luck of rivals. Boonen’s experience and tactical acumen will come in handy, even if he’s not at his career best.

Boonen will have the benefit of a strong, deep Etixx team, which starts without a major classics victory this season. Zdenek Stybar and 2014 winner Niki Terpstra both have good chances as well. Etixx’s strength in numbers counts even more in Roubaix, especially if it can slot a few riders in late moves, just like in 2014, when Terpstra attacked out of a group that also included Boonen and Stybar.

Boonen’s ideal tactic would be to shed faster riders, such as Sagan or Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), and perhaps square off against Cancellara or Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL – Jumbo), riders he knows he has a fair chance of beating if it comes down to the velodrome.

Now in his 15th season, Boonen seems impatient with all of the hoopla and hype leading up to Roubaix. He’s ready to race.

“Reconnaissance? It’s something we do especially for the media,” he said with a laugh. “The pavé is always the same, the only really important thing is to adjust your tire pressure.”

With Cancellara making his final farewell to the classics this week, Boonen has been evasive about his own retirement plans.

There’s one rumor making the rounds, and Etixx boss Patrick Lefevere summed it up like this: “If I was Tom Boonen, I’d try to win my fifth Roubaix, and then I’d retire. That would be the best way to leave cycling. You’ve got to decide the right time to retire, and not everyone can do that. But I’m not Tom!”

No, there’s only one Boonen. Only a fool will be counting him out Sunday.