Five Things We Learned at Paris-Roubaix

Tom Boonen rode away with his fourth Paris-Roubaix title from 52km out. The Belgian topped off a dream Classics season that included his second Flanders-Roubaix double, victories at Gent and Dwars, and a legendary ride that will double his popularity in cycling-obsessed Belgium. If Boonen was the superstar, then some other riders and issues are secondary observations worth noting.

1. Tom Boonen Can Win By Any Means Necessary. The big talk heading into the Queen of the Classics was that Tom didn’t need to attack from range, ride other riders off his wheel and solo to victory. That advice is probably still true, but Tornado Tom proved Sunday that he can do just that when it is required. When he went off the front and joined the wheel of teammate Nikki Terpstra, Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha and Pippo Pozzato make the move initially. Boonen went to the front, and for some reason, Ballan and the other elites simply stared at each other. Boonen has only about ten meters when the other pre-race favorites refused to work together to get back to his wheel. By the time they started riding, what was left of the peloton was already on them, with Terpstra burying himself to give Boonen a 32″ lead before blowing up. With Ballan caught, the sizable group looked to SKY to do all the work. Matthew Hayman, Ian Stannard and company could not do enough, doing nearly all the work but conceding a few seconds per kilometer to Boonen all the way until a Lars Boom attack broke up the race for good.

2. Taylor Phinney Will Win the Paris-Roubaix Soon. Though the 21 year old American was admittedly disappointed at his Flanders non-selection, Phinney took advantage of his first true Roubaix to finish an impressive 15th overall. A two-time winner of the U-23 Roubaix, Phinney appeared happy just to be joining his superstar squad in Paris for the start. On a team with George Hincapie, Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan and Marcus Burghart, Phinney was expected to ride hard, be in a good position and help out. He ended up finishing just behind Thor Hushovd as the third best BMC rider and the top American ahead of Tyler Farrar and Hincapie. It is the best finish by a 21 year old since, you guessed it, Tom Boonen finished second in his Paris-Roubaix debut.

3. Sylvan Chavanel Is Going To Be Scary Good This Year. On a team with enough firepower and support that Tom Boonen was never alone when he didn’t want to be, Sylvan Chavanel was simply unbelievable. Throughout the Classics he’s been a vital wild card for OmegaPharm-QuickStep, threatening in breakaways and supporting Boonen whenever possible. Along with Gert Steegmans and Nikki Terpstra, Boonen has had at least three lieutenants capable of making elite selections since February. Chavanel had the form to win this race, but sacrificed himself to force chase groups that severely deteriorated the support riders from BMC, SKY, RadioShack-Nissan and Astana. Only two punctures kept Chavanel from the front of the race today, one when he was in the lead group and another as he was passed by the chasers. Though he may have to negotiate with Tony Martin, with Levi Leipheimer recovering from his accident, Chavanel will be a huge favorite heading into the Ardennes Classics to close out the month.

To note, the success of Boonen this spring is just as much his team as it is his outstanding form. BMC went into races with three or four options because of their big names and talent. OPQS, despite their big names and talent, went in wholly and completely focused on the success of one. 

4, Team SKY Is A Team With No ‘I’ In It. When it came down to chase Tom Boonen, the only team well-represented was SKY. The squad had no less than five riders in the twenty-or-so man chase group that tried in vain to bring back Boonen after his attack from 50km out. Because of their numbers, SKY was forced to do all of the work under Lars Boom broke the group. Matthew Hayman, Ian Stannard, Juan Antonio Flecha, Edvald Boasson-Hagan all powered on the front, though Flecha was the chosen leader of the day. Work needed to be done in order to bring back Boonen, so the Spaniard, coming off a hand injury that kept him out of the other Classics except Flanders, put in more than a few turns. Boasson-Hagan, a young rising star with Tour wins to his credit, put in as much as he coud on a day he just didn’t have it. And Ian Stannard, again, rode himself completely under the turf to try and drag the group back into contention. Next to teams with bigger names, Team SKY is consistently represented at the sharp end of any race, and has been all season. They didn’t get the result today, but rode an outstanding team race to go for the win.

5. The Ghost of Fabian Cancellara Is Unshakable. He’s not dead, but the race sure felt empty without the Swiss Time Machine. Not to take away one iota of glory from an untouchable Tom Boonen, but having no Cancellara was on the minds of commentators and fans alike. When Boonen got clear from distance, it felt eerily similar to Cancellara’s move against Boonen and many of the same favorites in 2010. Commentators repeatedly speculated that the only man alive capable of going with Boonen was at home recovering from a quadruple collarbone break. After watching all of the Classics, that is probably true. Cancellara was actually the only favorite to ride away from Boonen at Gent, and it’s hard to imagine Spartacus failing to mark Boonen’s move. But, of course, it’s all speculation and day-dreaming. Odds are that with Cancellara in the race, Boonen doesn’t try anything from 50km out, sits on the wheel and hopes for a two-man sprint. Different race, different rival and very different tactics. But, it’s hard not to wonder…..

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