If his victory last week at the Tour of Flanders didn’t quite cement his place as the worlds number one cyclist so far in 2012 and perhaps the finest classics rider of his generation, then his solo win — for the fourth time in his career — at the infamous Paris-Roubaix certainly did. Boonen has now won the Gent-Wevelgem and Tour of Flanders to go with his Paris-Roubaix win and he’s quickly making the accomplishments of Philippe Gilbert twelve months ago look nothing out of the ordinary.
Coming into the race a few had been critical of Boonen over the fact he only had to follow moves knowing that he could outsprint his rivals when it got down to the final two-hundred yards, but Boonen put that theory to bed when he attacked with 52 kms to go and rode solo to victory by 1-39 over Sébastien Turgot in second place and Alessandro Ballan in third.
Boonen won’t be any kind of favourite for the Grand Tours this year, it’s not his style of riding, but just as they are geared for a specific type of cyclist, so to are the one day classics races and Boonen is proving to be better at his discipline than anyone else is at theirs. Until you go broadly across the spectrum of cycling disciplines and meet the dominance of Chris Hoy on the track, Boonen stands alone in 2012.
Winning Paris-Roubaix for that fourth time makes Boonen the king of the cobbels. His previous victories at Roubaix came in 2005, 2008 and 2009 and it ties him for the most wins at the Hell of the North with Roger De Vlaeminck. Sadly De Vlaeminck was far from content to see someone level his record describing Boonen’s rivals as “third-rate”.
“I hope Cancellara participates next year, then we see a different race,” de Vlaeminck moaned. “I knew beforehand that he [Boonen] would be next to me [on the list of all-time career victories]. Tom can not help it that this time he had no opposition. They were not second, but third-rate riders.”
Next up is this weekends Amstel Gold Race followed by Le Flèche Wallonne the following Wednesday and the Liège – Bastogne – Liège the weekend after that to conclude April’s classics. Boonen won’t be racing at the Flèche Wallonne though who could rule him out of winning or or both of the other two. My money is on a big result at Liège. It’ll be fascinating to watch how the others try to stop him.