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Boonen refuses favorite title for Roubaix

Tommeke says Omega Pharma has to make its own race on Sunday

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KORTRIJK, Belgium (VN) — Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) thinks of winning Paris-Roubaix Sunday, not of his favorite status to capture his record-tying fourth “Hell of the North.” Never mind the 3:1 odds or that he’s tipped more heavily than any other rider.

“A big favorite? I don’t consider myself anything. It doesn’t matter,” Boonen said Friday in a press conference. “The favorite title doesn’t count, the results count. In the end, the result only matters on Sunday.”

Boonen faces over 250 kilometers, 51 of them on some of northern France’s worst cobbled roads. If he wins, he’ll complete a run that includes wins in E3 Harelbeke, Ghent-Wevelgem and, last week, the Tour of Flanders. He’ll also equal the record number of wins set by Roger De Vlaeminck in 1977.

“He’s won the last four races, big races,” team manager Wilfried Peeters told VeloNews. “Tom is relaxed; win or lose it’s not much difference.”

With three wins in four tries in the cobbled classics over the last two weeks (three for three if we discount Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, where Boonen did not contest the finale, instead choosing to stay safely out of the way in what is notoriously a dangerous finish), Boonen can complete an historic run with the win on Sunday. At the same time, Boonen’s third Flanders win last weekend released a great deal of pressure on the man who hadn’t won a monument since his 2009 triumph at Roubaix.

Peeters explained that the team would take control as it did in Flanders. Omega Pharma did not have a man in the escape that day and rode on the front for much of the race, especially when top favorite Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) crashed out with a fractured collarbone 62 kilometers from the finish.

Boonen is powerful enough on the cobbles and fast enough in the sprint right now that it’s hard to imagine how his rivals can topple him. Roubaix, though, often twists the plot. Few thought Belgian Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) would win last year. And the year after his CSC teammate Cancellara’s first Roubaix win, in 2007, disharmony among the favorites allowed the early breakaway to stick and Stuart O’Grady took a somewhat surprising win.

It’s likely Omega Pharma will cover attacks and play its card in the sprint with Boonen. But the team also has Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel as a second option.

“We’ll come up with the tactics on Sunday, not now,” Peeters said. “It’s a different race; it’s not the same as Flanders. The first part of the cobbles start at 90k in, and the race goes on from there.”

“We were trying to make the race hard in Flanders, we will try it again in Roubaix,” Boonen said. “With or without Cancellara, it doesn’t change it for our team. We have to make our own race.”

Boonen tried to lay the favorite title on his rivals: top Italians Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing), Norway’s Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) who’s placed second and third but never won, and the reliable Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky).

“Pozzato and Ballan are both dangerous. Ballan is the one who you have to watch on the longer parts; if you give him 50 meters, he’s gone,” he said. “Pozzato is like me, explosive. I’m more explosive than he is, though.

“Flecha was strong already in Flanders, his first race back after a fractured hand. He has to do something in the spring classics, and it’s his last chance to try.”

Quizzed again about his favorite status, Boonen said, “It’s nice for the press, but the riders don’t think about it.”