Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma QuickStep) continued his dominance of the 2012 season with a masterful solo victory to claim his fourth Paris-Roubaix victory and a record-breaking second Ronde-Roubaix double in the same season.
The Belgian went clear with just over 50km of the 257.5km remaining, powering ahead over the last 11 cobbled sections to record a hugely impressive win in arguably his greatest season.
Boonen won by 1.39 from a five-strong chasing pack that included Team Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha. Sébastien Turgot (Europcar) finished second in a photo finish with BMC’s Alessandro Ballan. Flecha was fourth and Niki Terpstra, Boonen’s teammate and winner of Dwars Door Vlaanderen, was fifth.
A fourth victory in the Roubaix velodrome saw Boonen equal Roger De Vlaeminck’s 35-year record, and establish a new standard as the first rider to win all four ‘cobbled classics’ in the same season, following his victories earlier this year at E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and the Tour of Flanders.
Boonen said thoughts of records and previous victories had been far from his mind while preparing for Paris-Roubaix, but added: “When I look back on these two or three weeks, it’s been amazing. It’s my second double and I realize now I am the only one who did this ‘double’ two times. I realize now I am maybe be the best guy to ever ride on these cobblestones, on these roads. It’s special, but think I need some time. My career isn’t over yet.”
“I was not really thinking about the winning race or doing a record. I was just fighting myself. I was taking it step by step, cobblestone by cobblestone, kilometer by kilometer. I think if you start thinking about the 60 or 57 km, which is when I left, it’s nearly impossible. It is all in your mind. I was really thinking about my lead. With the gap at 30 seconds I was trying to take it second by second. I was trying not to push it right away to one minute, tried not to force myself. It was the best way to save my strength and put all my strength into the 50km in front of me. I think it was the best option.”
The race began at a high tempo and the peloton soon reeled in an early 25-strong breakaway before a group of 12 riders went clear at 70km. Britain’s Team Sky did much to limit the gains of the escapees, and kept their lead under five minutes. A crash at the head of the chasing bunch as the peloton rolled on to the cobbled section at Aulny-lez-Valenciennes-Famars ended the races of Tom Stamsnijder (Argos-Shimano) and Rabobank’s Tom Leezer.
Team Sky continued to drive the peloton and as the main bunch reached the Arenberg Forest, a key section of the race with arguably the most grueling of all the cobbled sections, a crash brought down three of the escapees: Grischa Janorschke (Team NetApp), Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek), and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Boonen and teammate, Sylvain Chavenel, the French national road race champion, pulled the peloton through the forest, reducing the advantage of the leading group to two minutes.
But the efforts of the Omega Pharma-QuickStep heavyweights could not prevent the escape of Ballan, Flecha, and Turgot, who with Jimmy Casper (AG2R-La Mondiale), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ-Big Mat), and Maarten Wynants (Rabobank), pulled out 30 seconds on the peloton. Not for the first time this season, Boonen had to rely on an impressive pull from his lieutenant, Gert Steegmans, to bring things back together, and the peloton regrouped with just under 70km to go.
Chavenel was the next to attack, moving ahead with a group that contained Ladagnous, Mangel, Michael Schär (BMC), and Turgot on the approach to the twelfth section of pave at Orchies. When Chavenel punctured, Turgot attacked. Boonen, sensing the danger from the head of the peloton and freed from the duty of protecting Chavenel’s advantage, attacked with Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia), whom he had had outsprinted to win the Tour of Flanders seven days earlier. The pair caught Turgot and were soon joined by Ballan and Terpstra.
In an impressive show of strength, the Omega Pharma-QuickStep pair dropped Ballan, Pozzato, and Turgot, and when Terpstra fell behind Boonen on the cobbled section from Auchy-les-Orchies to Bersée, the three-time winner headed for the Roubaix velodrome alone. His progress was aided by a crash that brought down Pozzato and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Stijn Devolder, but with 10 sections of pavé still to go, Boonen’s lead hung at a less than 30 seconds.
Team Sky had three of its Classics strongmen in the seven man chase group, with Edvald Boasson Hagen, Flecha, and Matthew Hayman working with Ballan, Lars Boom (Rabobank), and Ladagnous, in pursuit of Boonen. Further Sky reinforcement arrived in the shape of Ian Stannard, accompanied by Luca Paolini (Katusha), Jacopo Guarnieri (Astana), Matteo Tosatto (Saxo Bank), Turgot, and last year’s winner, Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda). Stannard put in a huge effort in service of Flecha, but by the time Boonen reached the 200 metre cobbled section from Templeuve to L’Épinette, his lead had increased to 50 seconds.
By the next pave section at Cysoing à Bourghelles, Boonen had stretched his lead to over a minute, his efforts assisted by Terpstra who shut down attacks by Ballan, Boom, Flecha and Vansummeren from the chasing group. Boom recovered from a mechanical to catch and pass the chasing group and begin his own solo pursuit of Boonen. Ballan, Flecha, and Ladagnous couldn’t match the Dutchman’s pace and were forced to hold a watching brief. Boom did manage to eat into Boonen’s advantage, but with only three cobbled sections between the Belgian and victory, Tomeke’s lead stood at 1.10.
Boom was eventually caught by Ballan, Flecha, Ladagnous and Turgot who continued their pursuit of Boonen. While Ladagnous punctured with 13km to go, Boonen continued his progress and entered the velodrome at Roubaix untroubled, free to enjoy his record-equaling fourth victory.
1) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 5.55.22
2) Sébastien Turgot (FRA) – Team Europcar +1.39
3) Alessandro Ballan (ITA) – BMC Racing
4) Juan Antonio Flecha (SPA) – Team Sky
5) Niki Terpstra (NED) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
6) Lars Boom (NED) – Rabobank + 1.43
7) Matteo Tosatto (ITA) – Saxo Bank + 3.31
8) Mathew Hayman (AUS) – Team Sky
9) Johan Vansummeren (BEL) – Garmin-Barracuda
10) Maarten Wynants (BEL) – Rabobank