Ever since walking away from his beloved discipline of cyclo-cross in 2009 Lars Boom has dreamt of a win in Paris-Roubaix. His ideal scenario to win that race would include rain and mud, just like in cyclo-cross.
Boom has three top 15 finishes from his four Paris-Roubaix participations to date, all in dry conditions. But when stage 5 of the Tour de France, on a course akin to a miniature edition of Paris-Roubaix, turned out to be a mud fest, Boom must have felt like a kid on Christmas morning. The 28-year-old duly blew men like Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan away with a splendid ride to claim stage victory.
"If it's drier, more riders can follow. I've been dreaming for years about a wet Paris-Roubaix. Then you’re offered these circumstances. With my past as a cyclo-cross rider I had and I wanted to perform really well," Boom told NOS radio.
"I expected Cancellara and Sagan would come back but they didn't. After the last corner you know you win and you feel goose bumps and tears on the bike. In the past I've been in the breakaway of the Tour with French riders who ride for a red dossard [combativity price] rather than a stage win which was possible. That was sad but winning this Tour de France stage in this weather is mega."
While most riders were anxious when heading to the start line in rainy Ypres at midday, Boom was decidedly more relaxed. He received a big kiss from his wife and waved goodbye to his children, and the removal of two out of the nine cobbled sectors due to the conditions did not faze him.
Just over three hours later, Boom was standing after the finish line in Arenberg with his oldest daughter Kee on his arm. A little later, he stepped on the podium as winner of an epic fifth stage of the Tour de France, once again with Kee accompanying him.
"Hopefully this is the beginning. It was my dream to win a Tour de France stage, especially this one in this weather. It’s very special," Boom said.
Boom acknowledged that his past in cyclo-cross had finally paid off. "That's true. I enjoyed my time on the cobbles today, riding through the mud. It felt like a playground, taking the inside of a corner, then the outside... it was beautiful."
Once the race was on, Boom and teammate Sep Vanmarcke were clearly having a good time while riding on the slippery cobbles.
"Sep and I started with the goal to win today. Together with Sep we rode away and we both felt good. I noticed Sep flatted at a very bad moment. That was really bad and he never came back," Boom said.
The mixture of general classification riders and classics specialists provided for a spectacle that included many crashes. "In every corner there were crashes. They were riding so hard towards each corner so they had to crash. It was a matter of riding in the front and hitting the cobbles in a good position. I put the hammer down a couple of times, also when Sep was gone. That was good because the group decreased in numbers every time."
A crucial moment in the race came when Astana put the hammer down in front with Lieuwe Westra, Jakob Fuglsang and race leader Vincenzo Nibali. Michal Kwiatkowski was on their wheel with pre-race favourites Boom, Fabian Cancellara (Trek) and Peter Sagan (Cannondale) a bit further back. "Suddenly Kwiatkowski allowed a gap and the Astana riders rode away. Cancellara and Sagan were not riding on their wheels. That's when I realized I had to go. It was a good decision," Boom said.
Together with the Astana riders Boom entered the final sectors. Just before hitting the cobbles from Hélesmes to Wallers the Dutchman assertively took the lead and raised the speed another notch. Nibali tried hard but failed to stick on his wheel.
"I really wanted to drop them in that last sector to be really sure about the win. With Nibali and Fuglsang, I had to be confident that I could ride away. I expected to have a bigger gap though. It was only six seconds though, so I had to ride flat out."