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Boonen lauds Wiggins’ final ride across Roubaix

Four-time Roubaix champion respects the former Tour winner's zeal for the cobbles, and wants to see more GC favorites race the monuments

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CALPE, Spain (VN) — Respect. That’s how cobbles king Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) views Bradley Wiggins’ gesture of riding his final career road race across the treacherous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.

Earlier this week, Wiggins (Sky) confirmed he would close out his road racing career with Team Sky with an all-out bid to win the Hell of the North in April.

“I can only say that I really admire the guy for doing it,” Boonen said Thursday. “It shows how big Roubaix is, and how much he likes the monuments, and that he gives the value to the monuments.”

Wiggins’ parting gesture isn’t lost on a rider like Boonen, who lives and breathes the cobblestones. The four-time Roubaix champion encouraged more riders to reach out beyond their comfort zone, and take on new challenges, such as riding the northern classics.

“More GC riders should ride the monuments. We ride the grand tours, so they should ride the monuments. All the big riders should be in all the big races,” Boonen continued. “Everything is so specialized in cycling these days. It’s a shame, and that’s how it goes. You cannot go back to 40 years when everybody was riding all the races, I like it more, but that’s how it is.”

Most modern grand tour favorites, however, steer clear of the northern classics, for fear of crashing or injury that could derail their GC ambitions in the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France. And the punchier profiles featured at such races as Amstel Gold Race or Liège-Bastogne-Liège are much better suited for the fleet-footed climbers.

And it’s important to point out that Wiggins skipped Paris-Roubaix in 2012, the year he became the UK’s first Tour de France winner. He returned for his seventh start last April, and electrified the peloton when he rode to a career-best ninth, a result that emboldened him to target all-out victory in Roubaix in what he says will be his final road race in a Team Sky jersey.

Etixx-Quick Step might have something to say about that. Arguably the deepest squad when it comes to the northern classics, the Belgian juggernaut will once again be pulling out all the stops for 2015. Niki Terpstra won out of the 10-rider group last year thanks in part to the presence of teammates Zdenek Stybar and Boonen. Wiggins rode into that elite group, and hopes for even bigger things in April.

Etixx-Quick Step sport director Rolf Aldag said if Wiggins could pull off a miracle victory, he would join a very elite club.

“Roubaix is hate-love relationship for most riders, and Wiggins obviously loves it,” Aldag told VeloNews. “At first, it seemed a bit strange that a Tour de France winner is leaving the sport at Roubaix, but it’s his first love. If you can win Roubaix, it shows you’re a complete rider. He would be on a pretty small list, with [Bernard] Hinault, [Eddy] Merckx. He has a chance to make history.”

Flattery aside, one could bet that Boonen, tied with Roger De Vlaeminck at four, will not be so magnanimous if Wiggins is standing between him and a record fifth Roubaix victory come April.

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