ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Tom Boonen (Etixx–Quick-Step) fell just short of winning a record fifth title in Paris-Roubaix today, but took away enough confidence that he should continue his career into 2017.
The 35-year-old Belgian avoided crashes and marked attacks on northern France’s farm roads, and just lost the sprint to Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEdge). The win would have put him one above Roger De Vlaeminck and made him Roubaix’s absolute best. Instead, he took away a second place. But that means something too, considering he crashed and fractured his skull six months ago in October.
“Mixed emotions? Yeah. In the end, I am not sure which emotion will be the top emotion,” Boonen said to a crowded pressroom in the covered velodrome adjacent to the famous outdoor one.
“I am happy with my performance. I knew after my injury it was going to be hard to get on a good level. I started to feel better, and I was getting hope for today. I knew the past few weeks, from experience, that I was getting better. I needed some hard finals. I was on a good level, maybe not the best. Maybe being second won’t be so bad for the future, maybe it will give me confidence for another year.”
Last year, Boonen renewed his contract through 2016 and made his goals the classics and a second world title in the Doha world championships. The classics became a risk after he fell in the Abu Dhabi Tour and broke part of his skull.
“This morning I got message from doctor who treated me in Abu Dhabi that said today was the day I could ride my bike again,” Boonen added. “I am a little bit ahead of schedule.”
He did not look his usual “Tommeke” self at E3 Harelbeke two weeks ago or at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) on Sunday. However, he and the team kept saying that he was improving and that he could possibly reach top form for the last race in his cobbled classic campaign. He appeared to arrive right on time.
Etixx hammered on the front of the peloton with several helpers midway through Sunday’s race. Tony Martin led the group when Alexander Porsev (Katusha) crashed and caused a split on the Quérénaing sector at 115 kilometers to race. Favorites Fabian Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were left behind. Boonen looked perfectly placed for a fifth title, but his attack inside the final 3km was countered by Hayman, who still had enough to hold off Boonen in the velodrome sprint.
“Mat was the rider that no one was looking at. Edvald was fast, Ian strong, Sep good on cobbles … I felt like it was a good moment, when Mat passed me, he was going strong, and I thought he played it smart.
“I have a few days off, and will need the time to think about the stuff that happened the last four months. I was rushing myself to be in shape. But right now, I cannot think of a reason why I shouldn’t come back next year.”