Apr 13 2008
Ah…now that’s what I was waiting for. Tom Boonen comes through with the big win (30 meters clear in a sprint!) just to remind you that he’s still the greatest classics rider of his generation. It’s hard to pick a more elite group to come into the line with, too: the 06′ Roubaix winner and the ’07 Flanders champ. Not bat company at all.
While Silence-Lotto threw down the first glove, splitting the race with Johan VanSummeren at the Arenburg Forest, CSC and Quick.Step held court from then on, going punch for punch right up to the velodrome. Devolder went up the road (which probably made Boonen a bit nervous), and O’Grady was sent to follow. The two dangled out that familiar 18 second gap until Silence-Lotto was forced to burn out VanSummeren reeling them back.
Cance then tried a very familiar attack (see Roubaix 06), but Boonen was ready, and Ballan hopped on for the ride. With the heads of state away, the CSC/Quick.Step battle continued, turning Devolder and O’Grady into temporary allies in a frenzied attempt to get some more cards into the hands of their leaders up the road.
The only tactical move I didn’t like was Cance’s late attack. The Swisstalian has pushed Boonen in a classics sprint before, and as Erik Zabel has noted, it’s a different game entirely sprinting after 260km. My money would be on holding back until the final 300, letting the less experienced Ballan make the mistakes, and hoping to get a drop high off the wall on Tommeke.
Of course, you never really want to full-out sprint when you’re cramping like the umpteen-time world TT champ allegedly was, and honestly, even with a bidon-full of pot belge a couple vials of EPO, I don’t think anyone was coming around Boonen at the end of this one. Maybe Oscar Freire. But the hard part for him – if he ever manned up for Roubaix – would be getting to the velodrome in the first place.
Luck played a factor, as it always does, and I can’t help but notice that the riders tagged as “biggest rivals” by the favorites never factor in the result. Boonen, probably still sore from the trashing Devolder gave him at the 05 KBK (leading to a Hincapie win), tagged the recently crowned Flanders winner as the favorite before his 2005 win. Today, Tommeke tabbed Backstedt as a man to watch, and the Swede never figured in the race.
Cancellara, too, engaged in the gamesmanship, giving perennially unlucky George Hincapie the “rival” mark. Two flats and a poorly-timed attack by teammate Bernhard Eisel later, GH was solidly OTB. Nobody, not even the blatantly America-centric Velonoews, picked Slipstream’s young Dutch thunderer Martyn Maaskant. So what if he just sat in the wheels? No one gets a “lucky” fourth place at Roubaix.