Boonen: legendary status?

Paris-Roubaix 2009

King of the cobbles

The Hell of the North rarely disappoints, but even by Paris-Roubaix standards today’s race was edge-of-the-seat, nail-biting stuff. The 2009 race had everything: pile ups in the Arenberg Forest; hard grafting yet ultimately stifled breakaways; Flecha, Hoste and Hushovd hitting the deck like dominos – doing their best to imitate last weekend’s Grand National – whilst in the leading group in the closing stages; and Boonen himself dirtying his kit early on and then suffering a flat just 25k from the velodrome.

Tom’s performance, though, was something to be admired. Despite his early tumble he looked in control throughout. Not only was he largely responsible for catching the 10-man break after Arenberg and decimating the bunch in the process, but when the decisive group took the race by the scruff of the neck, Boonen was the driving force in stretching the lead. Unperturbed and clear of danger as Cancellara faded, Flecha and co crashed to the cobbles, he never seemed at risk of being caught by Pozzato. Back-to-back victories and 3 in total, which places him level with Merckx, Moser, Museeuw et al and one off the joint all time record of De Vlaeminck. The overuse of the word ‘legendary’ infuriates me intensely; but, only 29 years old and plenty more years in his legs yet, could Boonen be a genuine legend in the making?

Watch the highlights on Eurosport.

I was fortunate enough to see Big Tom up close on the final stage of the Tour of Britain 2006, sporting his reigning world champ rainbow jersey as well. What struck me was – as the riders did laps of The Mall, setting themselves up for the sprint finish – how Boonen ran the show, barking orders at the entire peleton, ensuring the race unfolded with he in prime position to strike for home. Guess who won that day? That’s right, Boonen powered to victory ahead of Roger Hammond and one Mark Cavendish.

Boonen on London's Primrose Hill, Tour of Britain 2006 (Canon 300D, 28-105mm Canon EW-63II lens, 1/160 sec. at f/5.6)

Boonen on London's Primrose Hill, Tour of Britain 2006 (Canon 300D, 28-105mm Canon EW-63II lens, 1/160 sec. at f/5.6)

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