There was little reward for the impressive ride from Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) at Paris-Roubaix when he left the Roubaix vélodrome behind him on Sunday afternoon. Boonen blew the Queen of Classics apart at no less than 65km from the finish while knowing that there was an unfavourable headwind blowing in the north of France and there were 13 cobbles sectors left to cover.
In the end, Boonen's attempt fell short and 20km before the finish, all the big guns were riding back together in front. In the following pavé sectors, Boonen struggled, but at 8km from the finish he bounced back, creating a lead group of 12 riders.
Teammate Niki Terpstra attacked two kilometres later and managed to stay ahead until the finish line in the vélodrome, offering Boonen some consolation for missing out on a unique fifth Roubaix victory. Boonen didn't hide his disappointment when talking with the media after taking a shower in the team bus. When asked if he had the legs to win a fifth Paris-Roubaix, he was somewhat offended.
"I don't think I have to say that. That was obvious," said Boonen, who was happy that at least his teammate Terpstra had taken the win. "Of course, if you're trying so hard yourself, it's only normal that at first you're a bit disappointed, then after that I'm happy, too. It was a day to forget quickly, but in the end we've won. I couldn't imagine that we would have lost the race. That would've been completely ridiculous," Boonen said.
"We were very lucky because if someone would have joined him, we would have lost. Niki is very strong late in the race, but you need some luck, too. He already did a lot of work behind the group. I'm happy we won because otherwise there would've been a lot of complaints."
For Boonen, there were two major reasons for him not taking a fifth Paris-Roubaix victory: bad luck and racing tactics from the BMC team. The headwind didn't bother him much although he said it was harder to win in those conditions.
"The headwind hurts but behind you it also makes the group lose speed easily. We had the bad luck that BMC was constantly well organized and chasing their own rider [Thor] Hushovd. I can't understand that," Boonen said before adding that he "had never so much bad luck as this year".
He dealt with a bike switch after he wrecked his bike in the second pavé sector (n° 27) when his chain got stuck between the two chain rings. He needed 10 kilometres to get back in the peloton and the needed some time to move back up to the front.
"The moment I'm telling the guys to go flat out on a sector [16?], we are riding away with a group, but then I flatted. It took a long time before I managed to get a new wheel. Then I had to pass all the guys again who I had just dropped," Boonen said.
The efforts to chase back didn't keep Boonen from surging forward. In between the bike switch and the flat tyre, he launched a spectacular attack. He was the first of the favourites to undertake action in the Queen of Classics, despite the headwind.
"It's always hard with a headwind. It's easier to go alone when there are crosswinds. But I recalled the edition with Stuart O'Grady and Johann Vansummeren, which was the same. That's why I thought it was possible to win when I was up the road. I knew that at sector 9 the course is turning a little so you've got more tailwind. It was a calculated move," Boonen said. The reason for his attack was the breakaway of a group with teammates during Boonen's flat tyre problems. "We had to chase with the whole team. I know that it's a very hard sector. Stijn [Vandenbergh] was leading, and I was passing Niki. I told him, 'Let's go'. When I got there, I found out I was alone. That wasn't the goal, but I figured I might as well go for it."
Much later in the race, Boonen and his breakaway companions were caught. At the cobbles of Camphin-en-Pévèle, there was an acceleration from Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
"I was in fourth position during their acceleration, but then in a corner the rider in third, Lars Boom, crashed. There was a gap of 50 metres and I needed 10 kilometres to come back because I had done a lot of efforts before that," Boonen said, while also referring to an unruly, dusty derailleur at that moment.
"I've won twice over here with much worse legs than today. Now it's time to recover for a week because it hasn't quite been my spring season. We'll try to do a good second part of the season, and next year we'll try again."