Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)
When Tom Boonen soloed into the Roubaix Velodrome in 2012 to win Paris-Roubaix for a record-equaling fourth time, he achieved what no other rider had ever done – victory in all four cobbled Classics in a single season. Few would have predicted then that the former world champion would fail to win any races this year as the big Belgian suffered with crashes and injuries. However, the 33-year-old is back, and judging by the photos of Omega Pharma-Quickstep’s training camp – in which he is leading the team over the hills of Oliva – he is in good shape, too.
With Fabian Cancellara back on form, and the relentless challenge of the brutal parcours, a record fifth victory in the “Hell of the North” is far from a foregone conclusion. Greater certainty may come one week earlier at the Ronde. Cancellara might start the race as favourite, as he bids to repeat his victory this year, but with the emphasis on Oude Kwaremont shifting with the new route, as revealed last month, Spartacus will be in good company if he tries to detonate the race on the climb again this year. Boonen conquered the re-worked route in 2012 to prove he has the power to excel on the cobbled climbs, regardless of the parcours before him, and the Belgian ace will be desperate to win in front of his home fans again next year. A straight fight between the two premier Classics riders of their generation on the run from the Paterberg to the finish in Oudenaarde is a delicious prospect.