Tom Boonen has capped a towering 2012 Classics season by today winning Paris-Roubaix for a record equalling fourth time, Europcar's Sebastien Turgot taking second place from BMC Racing's Alessandro Ballan. Boonen's victory in this afternoon's 110th edition of the race will surely go down as his most remarkable.
Attacking alongside Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mate Niki Terpstra with more than a fifth of the 257.5km parcours still to ride, Boonen soon found himself alone in front. Heading into the last 20 kilometres, he had streched out a gap of more than a minute, and by the time he had safely negotiated the often decisive Carrefour de l'Arbre sector of pavé, the race behind him was for second place.
Last year, the main contenders had ridden a defensively as they marked Fabian Cancellara, who 12 months earlier had attacked from more than 40 kilometres out to time trial his way to victory. Garmin’s Johan Vansummeren had profited from that to attack from the break and take a surprise solo win.
Cancellara of course was absent today after shattering his collarbone in last week’s Tour of Flanders, but again, one rider found himself alone at the front of the race as it entered its closing kilometres.
Improbably, that man was Boonen, seeking to become the first man to win both Flanders and Roubaix during the same season twice. He was also aiming to become the first rider to win Gent-Wevelgem, the E3 Harelbeke, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year.
Another record was within the Belgian’s sights. Last week in Flanders, the 31-year-old had won that race for a record-equalling third time; today he could emulate Roger de Vlaeminck, the only four-time winner of Paris-Roubaix.
Boonen's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team had moved to the front of the race as it approached the fearsome pavé of the Arenberg Trench, more than 80 kilometres from the finish at the velodrome in Roubaix, and almost excluded from this year's race due to the poor condition of the road, including moss growing between the cobblestones.
A couple of minutes before the group containing the main contenders hit the former mining track, its dangers had been highlighted by a crash in the breakaway as NetApp's Grishka Janorschke lost control, bringing down several other riders of the 12-man group.
There was to be no such drama in the main group, although riders including Andre Greipel and George Hincapie were among those to succumb to the inevitable punctures.
The main group itself comprised those riders who had survived an earlier selection on the seventh section of pavé with 110 kilometres still to ride, when most of the peloton was held up behind a tangle of bikes and bodies following an innocuous looking crash.
Among the men who were held up was 1997 winner Frederic Guesdon of FDJ-BigMat, riding his last professional race. He would go on to complete it, long after Boonen, but still got some of the biggest cheers from the crowd.
Most of the main contenders had kept towards the front of the bunch to avoid their hopes being ended in such a manner, and were still present in the group of 35 or so riders that emerged from the Arenberg with only eight riders now ahead of them on the road.
Briefly a small break including threats to Boonen such as Team Sky's Juan Antonio Flecha and BMC Racing's Alessandro Ballan got away, but Omega Pharma Quick Step quickly chased them down.
By now, the earlier break had been swallowed up and next to attack was Europcar’s Turgot, desperately trying to build a gap over the bunch. Boonen and Terpstra managed to bridge across, as did Balland and Farnese Vini’s Filippo Pozzato.
The two Italians had contested the finale of the Tour of Flanders with Boonen last week, and for a moment it looked as though that trio of riders might once again try and ride away from the group.
Ballan and Pozzato proved unable to handle the pace being set by the Omega Pharma-Quick Step pair, however, and soon the pair were on their own. On the next pavé section, with more than 50 kilometres left, Terpstra too dropped back.
Boonen was now riding at the front of the race alone, and into a place in the record books, his pursuers, including four Team Sky riders in the shape of Flecha, Mat Hayman, Edvald Boasson Hagen and Ian Stannard, unable to close the gap.
Rabobank’s Lars Boom desperately tried to eat into the Belgian’s lead on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, but failed to dent it as Boonen headed towards a history-making victory in Roubaix.
Paris-Roubaix 2012 result 1 BOONEN Tom OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 5h 55' 22" 2 TURGOT Sébastien TEAM EUROPCAR + 01' 39" 3 BALLAN Alessandro BMC RACING TEAM 4 FLECHA Juan Antonio SKY PROCYCLING 5 TERPSTRA Niki OMEGA PHARMA-QUICK STEP 6 BOOM Lars RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM + 01' 43" 7 TOSATTO Matteo TEAM SAXO BANK + 03' 31" 8 HAYMAN Mathew SKY PROCYCLING 9 VAN SUMMEREN Johan GARMIN-BARRACUDA 10 WYNANTS Maarten RABOBANK CYCLING TEAM 11 PAOLINI Luca KATUSHA TEAM 12 LADAGNOUS Matthieu FDJ-BIGMAT 13 RAST Gregory RADIOSHACK-NISSAN +04' 23" 14 HUSHOVD Thor BMC RACING TEAM 15 PHINNEY Taylor BMC RACING TEAM +04' 37" 16 CHAINEL Steve FDJ-BIGMAT 17 HULSMANS Kevin FARNESE-SELLE ITALIA 18 SARAMOTINS Aleksejs COFIDIS LE CREDIT EN LIGNE 19 CASPER Jimmy AG2R LA MONDIALE 20 MARCATO Marco VACANSOLEIL-DCM
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.