By Brecht Decaluwé in Roubaix
Under controversial circumstances, defending champion Tom Boonen finished on the podium at the 2006 Paris-Roubaix. However, in his typically honest manner, he said at the post-race press conference: "If you would make a ranking of the strongest men, I would be fifth."
Cyclingnews: How is it to finish second this way [after three riders who finished before the world champion were disqualified - ed]?
Tom Boonen: "It's not a nice way and I don't agree with the decision the officials took. When the train was passing, it was up to the officials to make us stop. I finished fifth, not second. But that's the way it is now."
CN: How did you enjoy standing there when the gates were shut?
TB: "Normally you don't have the chance to look around like that. The birds were flying, the sun was shining and a train passed us, it was beautiful. Then the gates opened and we started off racing again." (wry smile)
CN: Was it not possible for you to react when the decisive escape got away?
TB: It was Gusev who attacked at the left side of the road. I was at the other side and wanted to cross over. At that moment Flecha passed me and I had to brake, avoiding a fall. That moment, I cracked."
CN: After Arenberg forest, you had no more teammates left - what happened?
TB: "This week, I told my teammates that I would enter the forest as first rider. I did, and after a while I dropped back to third position to control the situation. Having no teammates from that moment on didn't bother me at all. Everything just happened; it didn't have an influence on the result, as I wouldn't be a minute faster."
CN: Is Fabian Cancellara a deserving winner for you?
TB: "He was the strongest man in the race today. Other strong men were Flecha and Hincapie. If you would make a ranking of the strongest men, I would be fifth. So my result was alright."
CN: How strong was Tom Boonen today, then?
TB: "Certainly not as strong as in the Tour of Flanders. Maybe if everything would've gone right for me, I could've won. With a half of a percent extra, I could've joined the escape. But I just didn't have the legs to pass Van Petegem and Flecha.
"If you had asked me in January if I would agree with some stages wins in Qatar and Paris-Nice, a fourth place in Milano-Sanremo, a win in the E3-Harelbeke and Tour of Flanders plus a second spot in Paris-Roubaix... I would definitely say yes to that." (smiles)