Belgium’s Tom Boonen, center, reacts on the podium with French cyclist Sebastien Turgot, right, who took second place, and Italy’s Alessandro Ballan, left, who was third, after the classic cycling race Paris-Roubaix in Roubaix, northern France, Sunday April 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler)
By Julien Pretot
ROUBAIX, France, April 8 (Reuters) – Tom Boonen unleashed a bold and self-confessed “crazy” move with more than 50 kms to go to claim a brilliant, record-equalling fourth victory in the Paris-Roubaix classic on Sunday.
Boonen pulled clear 57 kms from the finish of the Queen of the Classics and never looked back to emulate fellow-Belgian Roger de Vlaeminck, who won four times in the 1970s.
Frenchman Sebastien Turgot, who was on the attack all day, finished second, outsprinting Italian Alessandro Ballan on the Roubaix velodrome.
“It was a little bit crazy. It’s not a move than I often do but today was the perfect day to take some risk,” said Boonen, who showed four fingers as he crossed the line, his face a mixture of joy and pain.
“It’s my greatest (Paris-Roubaix) win. Claiming the fourth in such manner is just great.
“(When I pulled away) I was not really thinking about winning the race, I was just fighting, taking it step by step, coblestone by conbblestone, kilometre by kilometre,” explained Boonen, now the only man to have achieved a Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double twice in the same year.
“When you start a ‘numero’ like this, if you think there’s 50 kilometres left it’s almost impossible because you make it harder in your mind.”
In the absence of Fabian Cancellara, who could not take part in the race after he broke his collarbone in last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, 2005 world champion Boonen was the hot favourite and he duly delivered in the Hell of the North.
With nobody in the early 12-man breakaway, BMC and Team Sky were forced to do all the work in front of the peloton while Boonen’s Omega Pharma Quick Step team, who had Guillaume Van Keirsbulck among the leaders, sat comfortably in the pack.
Italian Filippo Pozzato, second in Flanders last Sunday, was dropped after a massive crash split the main bunch in three with some 115 kms left. He fought his way back later.
POZZATO DROPS OUT
Among those trapped was Frederic Guesdon, the last Frenchman to win Paris-Roubaix in 1997, who is taking part in the race for a record-equalling 17th time despite sustaining a hip fracture earlier this year.
At the beginning of the Trouée d’Arenberg, with hundreds of spectators on the right and mud on the left making it impossible to ride on the side of the road, Boonen and Thor Hushovd were among the firsts in the peloton to enter the feared cobbled section some two minutes behind the leaders.
Veteran George Hincapie, also in his 17th Paris-Roubaix and a runner-up in 2005, could not follow the pace, but his BMC Racing team mate Alessandro Ballan, third in 2006 and 2008, was in a six-man counter-attacking group that also featured Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha with less than 80 kms to go.
The Ballan group opened a 25-second lead but Boonen’s team mate Geert Steegmans reined them in 68 kms from the finish.
After joining the breakaway group, Boonen and Pozzato accelerated with 57 kilometres left.
Pozzato, however, could not sustain the pace and Boonen was eventually accompanied by his Dutch team mate Niki Terpstra, who was dropped in the Auchy-les-Orchies cobbled section.
Pozzato then crashed and eventually dropped out of contention as Flecha counter-attacked 48 kms from the line.
He quickly built a 30-second gap despite Team Sky’s effort to catch him and the chasers’ chances were effectively over when Boonen’s lead reached the minute with some 20 kilometres remaining.
The Roubaix velodrome chanted Guesdon’s name when the FDJ-Bigmat rider entered the velodrome just as Boonen lifted his trophy.