By John Wilcockson
Johan Museeuw is one of the most modest men you could ever meet. There’s nothing flashy about this 36-year-old Belgian, who still lives modestly in the little town of Gistel, in deepest Flanders, despite his fame and continued success. By winning the epic 100th edition of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday, Museeuw won the 10th World Cup classic in a career that already spans 15 years — and total adulation from his bike-crazy country.
His latest victory placed him alongside three other cycling legends — Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser — who also won this Queen of the Classics three times. But it leaves him one short of the record four Roubaix victories scored by another Belgian great, Roger De Vlaeminck. So, he was asked at the post-race press conference, will he continue racing another year in an attempt to join De Vlaeminck as Mr. Paris-Roubaix? Or will he retire now?
“Records don’t mean much to me,” Museeuw replied. “I don’t lose any sleep thinking about them. But I fixed a date when I said I will stop — that’s the world championships in Zolder. And that’s when I’ll stop.”
So why, he was asked, did he say he was going to quit last Sunday after losing the Tour of Flanders? “I didn’t really say I would stop,” he said. “I was emotional last week, and I cried because I wanted to win my fourth Tour of Flanders. Then I talked it over at dinner with my family and with [Domo team manager] Patrick [Lefevere]. We had a good wine, an Italian wine, and then I set my sights on Paris-Roubaix.”
Museeuw is an old-fashioned racer in a sense that he believes in long, hard training sessions, often paced by his father on a derny motorcycle. Typically, on Saturday, before he and his team drove down to the start of Paris-Roubaix from Belgium, Museeuw rode his bike the 60km from his home in Gistel to the Domo-Farm Frites team hotel in Waregem.
He races just as hard as he trains, and he is known for using his immense power to push huge gears. But he also is a careful strategist, and with his friend Lefevere always puts together strong teams designed for peaking at the spring classics. This Paris-Roubaix was a perfect example.
Domo put two riders into the early attack, Max Van Heeswijk and Enrico Cassani. And after George Hincapie split the chase group through the Arenberg Forest, Museeuw easily followed, and then made sure that two more of his teammates — 2001 Roubaix winner Servais Knaven and U.S. champion Fred Rodriguez — bridged up to his group.
Rodriguez, riding his first Roubaix, was eventually forced to drop back through terrible bad luck — two flats, four crashes and a broken cleat. But after the two small front groups came together with 53km left, Museeuw had Van Heeswijk and Cassani ready to cover him when their team leader attacked. The rest is history.
Discussing his winning move 41km from the finish, and the riders he escaped from, Museeuw said that the strongest ones were Hincapie and his young Postal teammate Tom Boonen. He then paid Boonen, the 21-year-old Belgian rookie, the ultimate compliment: “He’s the new Museeuw.”
It certainly looks like the “old” Museeuw is finally ready to pass the baton….