The golden boy of Belgian cycling has done it again. On a cold Sunday in 'hell', 24 year-old Tom Boonen, who rode an amazing Ronde van Vlaanderen last weekend, won the 103rd edition of Paris-Roubaix and doing so, became only the eighth rider in history to complete the Flanders-Roubaix double.
"This is more than unbelievable. Everything went as I expected it would," said the beaming Boonen post-race, engulfed in a horde of team staff, journalists, photographers and fans.
"This is impressive," were some of the first stuttered words that came from his ecstatic team manager Patrick Lefevre's mouth. "The whole team worked for Tom. Actually, Boonen shouldn't have won after his victory last week. But he was spared of bad luck and rode fantastically."
Going clear of a very select five-man group with less than 20 kilometres to go, Boonen entered the Roubaix velodrome with only George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) by his side. Showing the cunning of a seasoned track sprinter, Boonen waited in third wheel right until the bell lap signaling one lap to go, before launching himself down from the banking with two corners remaining, comfortably outsprinting Hincapie and Flecha, who took second and third place respectively.
"I believed in myself. I knew Boonen was the man to beat," Hincapie said. "When he attacked, I thought I could come by him at the end. But he was too strong. I'm happy I was amongst the strongest riders. I rode a smart race. I did what I could and I rode as hard as I could."
"It was beautiful Roubaix," said the third-placed Flecha, who, after finishing second in a controversial Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday and 12th in the Ronde, is surely up for a Spring Classic victory in the not-too-distant future.
Last year's winner, Magnus Backstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi), was part of the early six-man break but was dropped on the Le Carrefour de l'Arbre secteur of pavé when Boonen accelerated, coming in just over a minute down in fourth place, while Lars Michaelsen (Team CSC) was also in the lead group until he too fell victim to Boonen's strength on the same section of pavé, eventually finishing 2'43 down in fifth place.
Last achieved by Peter Van Petegem in 2003, but before that, 26 years ago by four-time Paris-Roubaix Roger De Vlaeminck (1977), Boonen's rare double means he has done something the man he is constantly compared to hasn't - that man being three-time winner Johan Museeuw. "To win the double at 24 years old, fantastic. I shouldn't race for too much longer, right?" Boonen quipped.