Tom Boonen could win Paris-Roubaix for a fourth time on Sunday, equalling the record of Belgian classics legend Roger De Vlaeminck. But that is where the similarities between the two Flemish riders go, according to De Vlaeminck in an interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, who predicts that Fabian Cancellara, rather than Boonen, could be the first to match his record.
Just like during his career in the 1970s, De Vlaeminck is not afraid to speak his mind about the current generation of ‘spoilt’ riders. He described Filippo Pozzato as ‘too good looking to be a rider’ and revealed he prefers French-speaking Philippe Gilbert to fellow Flandrian Boonen.
“It’s about time, considering the record has lasted for 34 years,” De Vlaeminck said bluntly about Boonen’s chances of winning a fourth Paris-Roubaix.
“But I think Cancellara will beat the record before Boonen does. He can win on Sunday by dropping Boonen. I like Cancellara, he attacks and races with panache. Everyone rode against him at Flanders, even the mechanics of the other teams who wouldn’t give him a bottle. That was scandalous. But he was the strongest. Boonen is a good rider but he’s not as strong as he once was.”
De Vlaeminck refutes the idea that he and Boonen are very similar as riders.
“How can you say that? He can’t climb and can’t time trial. Cancellara is good at time trials but can’t climb, so neither of them are like me. I was more like Merckx…
“I was a bandit. If Boonen is the God of Belgian cycling, then I’m the devil.
“Our generation was classier, too. Look at Saronni? He won the Giro at just 21. We always raced to get a result and me and Merckx fought even for the criteriums. These days they use 50 races a year as training. We were more complete and could win in a sprint, on a climb or in a time trial. And there were far stronger rivals. At Roubaix I was up against Moser, Maertens, Kuiper, Raas and Hinault. Today, apart from lucky cases like Nuyens at Flanders, there’s just Cancellara and Boonen.”
Despite being Flemish to the bone, De Vlaeminck admits he’s a fan of Philippe Gilbert, from the French-speaking Walloon part of Belgium, even if the Omega Pharma-Lotto rider always avoid the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
“I like Gilbert far more than I do Boonen. He’s a nice guy, kind and not at all big-headed. He races all year, right up to Lombardy and can win alone. I wish he’d try Paris-Roubaix. I’ve nothing against Boonen but you can’t be a fan of both of them in Belgium and I’m not going to change my mind.”
Gazzetta also asked De Vlaeminck about Filippo Pozzato. He dismisses the Italian with some hard truths and blunt criticism about owning a Ferrari.
“Pozzato was a champion when he was young and had more class than Boonen. I don’t know his problem but he’s lost a lot of time. He should be able to easily win Paris-Roubaix. His problem is that he’s too good looking to be a rider.”
“A Ferrari is not the car for a rider, it’s for a footballer. The boss of Brooklyn (Giorgio Perfetti) gave me a Ferrari when I won Milan-San Remo but I couldn’t get my bike in the boot and had to take the saddle off, which I then forgot at home. I sold it after a year.”
De Vlaeminck won 249 races during his 16-year career. He won all five monumental Classics but dismisses the idea that Cancellara can pull off the same achievement. He also has some choice words for modern-day directeur sportifs. His only involvement in cycling was as a mentor for some rider from Zimbabwe but watched the Tour of Flanders at home, claiming he had not been invited by the organisers.
“Cancellara better hurry up because he’s already 30. I think it’ll be hard for him, especially at Lombardy and I don’t think he can beat Gilbert at Liege,” De Vlaeminck said.
“I’m not interested in the ‘’politics’ of cycling and I was tired of driving a team car a30km/h behind the riders. I’m against race radio because the races are better without all the tactics but perhaps the directeur sportifs are scared of falling asleep.”