After his Omega Pharma - Quick Step team dominated the first part of the season with 25 wins, manager Patrick Lefevre is heading into the legendary one day Classic, Paris-Roubaix, with the race's top favorite. The team's leader for the Hell of the North race is Tom Boonen, a triple winner of the French event and six-time podium finisher.
Last Sunday's win in the Tour of Flanders has already made Boonen’s Spring Classics season a success, but during Friday's press conference, it was clear he hoped for even more. With a fourth win in Paris-Roubaix, he would join Roger De Vlaeminck as record holder and would be the first to do the Flanders-Roubaix double twice.
"The first big goal was achieved, but I'm not more or less motivated for any of these two races. It would be stupid not to think that winning a fourth Roubaix is special. It's not a small thing, and equaling a record from Roger has to be something special," Boonen said.
Living the life of a favorite
After the crash by Fabian Cancellara (Radioshack-Nissan) during the Tour of Flanders, which ruled the strong Swiss contender out for participation at Paris-Roubaix, it's clear that all eyes will be pointed at the 31-year-old Belgian, but Boonen isn't bother about that.
"The least important thing is to be a favorite. The only thing that matters is to get a good result on Sunday. Things are looking good. I've already had a lot of luck in this race although last year was in high contrast with that. I know this race extremely well and I simply have to be in the mix for the win. These two races were my major goals and all the other races don't matter anymore. The win in Flanders was pleasing, but it did make it harder to stay relaxed ahead of this one with all these press conferences, etc.," Boonen said, noting that it would be hard to have more pressure put upon him than there is right now.
His role as the favorite will make the job of his team that much harder. "It's easier to control the race if there are three to four favorites, but we'll take our responsibility as a team. Having a breakaway up the road with specialists like last year is something we have to avoid at all costs."
Earlier on Friday, the team rode a reconnaissance ride on the final 80-90km of the Paris-Roubaix course. When asked about his thoughts on that recon Boonen said it didn't do much for him. "I didn’t see much of the cobbles as there were too many motorbikes. It was quite a useless reconnaissance ride. It was the 28th time I rode over those cobbles, so I think I know them," Boonen said. "It's a one-day race, so it can go either way. Just like at the Tour of Flanders you need some luck."
Love for the cobbles
When asked why he loved riding the cobbles as much as he did, Boonen recalled the days when he rode the U23 version of Paris-Roubaix.
"Back in 1999, I showed up for the first time as a U23 rider. Before that day, I had never thought about the race, but I ended up finishing sixth. In fact, I could've won that race as an 18-year-old whippersnapper. It stuck to my mind and every year, I returned with the knowledge that I was good at it. That's probably how it grew and how I became good at it," Boonen said.
His début among the pros as a domestique for George Hincapie for the US Postal team was impressive as he went on to finish third. "I remember the entire day. Early on, the peloton split apart and I was in the first group. We always had three minutes on the peloton and riders kept being dropped. When Johan [Museeuw] attacked, I worked for George, but we were both tired. When I arrived in the vélodrome then I didn't think I would win the race three times," Boonen said.
"It's my preferred race because you have to keep fighting against yourself. It's a survival of the fittest, a day of saving your energy whenever you can to have all your energy when it's needed," Boonen said.
While Boonen stands out as top favorite, other riders who are expected to have a good ride on Sunday. Boonen named men like Filippo Pozzato, Alessandro Ballan and Thor Hushovd while he didn't count out last year's winner Johan Vansummeren.
"Just like Sep Vanmarcke, I expect Vansummeren too. There's only one way Johan can win, and that is by going from far out. Pozzato surprised me after his broken collarbone. I expected him not to be good at all but it turns out he's great. Pozzato is like me on the cobblestones. He's explosive whereas a man like Ballan excels in longer parts."
"Flecha will be good too. He was already good at Flanders after only one race. If he wants to do something at the Spring Classics it's now," Boonen said.
At the BMC press conference Thor Hushovd claimed that Boonen probably feared him as much in the sprint as he feared Boonen. "No, I don't fear him. If I arrive with four, six, eight or alone - it doesn't matter how you arrive on the vélodrome as long as you win."
When asked whether he worried about that the 2012 edition of Paris-Roubaix might become a mudfest Boonen was not concerned. "It doesn't matter as it's all the same. It doesn't change a thing as I'll stay on the same wheels." It's clear that any other rider who wants to win Paris-Roubaix will have to get rid of Boonen before reaching the legendary vélodrome in Roubaix.