Tom Boonen was relaxed after reconnaissance of the Paris-Roubaix course on Friday, despite the threat posed to a record equaling fourth victory at French spring Classic by the Saxo Bank squad. Victory on Sunday would put the Quick Step rider on par with fellow Belgian Roger De Vlaeminck, but the 29-year-old seems satisfied to focus on individual wins rather than records.
"I'm busy with that fourth win because everybody is busy with it. Fabian Cancellara doesn't want to see me win, nobody wants me to win," Boonen laughed. "I'm not better than anybody else. I'll just try to win it for a fourth time and that would make me happy; of course I would be happy with a fifth win too.
“To me it's not that important now, but once I have it I'll realise what I did,” he added. “Probably even more when my career as a rider is behind me."
Falling just short in Milano-Sanremo, E3 Prijs Harelbeke and the Tour of Flanders puts Boonen in an unusual position heading into Roubaix. Yet while he’ll line up in Paris without a spring win to his name, his consistency will ensure he’s amongst the contenders inside the final 20 kilometres of Roubaix’s famed velodrome.
"I'm not used to being in this position, without a big win in the spring Classics,” said Boonen. “I've been the most consistent rider with my second places. In Milano-Sanremo I encountered a very strong Oscar Freire and in Flanders a very strong Fabian Cancellara.
“Winning and losing are so close to each other in these races. I think I'm having one of my best years but of course it would be great if I could add a win in Paris-Roubaix to the list.”
With Saxo Bank, and in particular Cancellara, so strong so far this season, Boonen knows exactly who he’ll be shadowing come Sunday. Boonen is planning on the race ending in a sprint between a small selection of riders, an outcome which has proven fruitful for the rider in past years.
"I'll try to stick with Cancellara, that's the first thing,” he said. “Hopefully we don't have to bring him back. Anyway it's a different race and last year I improved a little bit going into Roubaix.
"There's a lot of pressure on both of us,” he added. "Saxo isn't a defensive team. They'll make the race and that will result in a quick selection. I'm not scared of what they're planning in the Arenberg Forest. They can't do much else than ride very hard, can they?
“Actually I think that pavé sector 13 - the Marc Madiot sector - is the hardest one of all. It seems like a truck arrived there, delivered the cobbles and then left without paving them; they're everywhere. Last year the motorbike accident happened there and I attacked there myself, making the selection.”
At Flanders last Sunday the Belgian road champion was strong but eventually received a beating from Cancellara on the Muur of Geraardsbergen. Boonen was able to find some consolation in the Swiss rider’s strength on the Muur however.
"There wasn't much I could do against Cancellara. I think he clocked the fastest time ever on the Muur. The good thing for Paris-Roubaix is that the Muur isn't in the course now, lucky enough," Boonen said.
Boonen slept the entire day after Flanders to help his recovery before competing at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. Despite crashing with 30 kilometres remaining, Boonen said he’s recovered okay albeit with a stiff right leg.
Weather forecast for Sunday includes a headwind, partially blowing from the side. Boonen didn't seem to care much about the weather forecast though as he explained at the team’s hotel in Kortrijk.
"The weather's not that important to me. I've been good in wet and dry conditions,” he said. “When it's dry then it's much faster but if you crash it hurts much more. If it's wet then you need to accelerate much harder after the corners. I've never suffered a lot from the wind. Just 500 metres of crosswind can be enough, like two years ago when that was the spot where the selection was made.”
While Cancellara has stolen the headlines in recent weeks, he’s not the only rider capable of preventing Boonen from claiming his third consecutive victory in Roubaix. Boonen believes the contenders are similar to the list of 12 months ago.
“Alessandro Ballan's not riding, but he wasn't much of a rival this year,” he said. “Hincapie is good; he seemed to have settled in well at the new team. I don't know about Filippo Pozzato. He was just sitting in the bunch on Wednesday and I don't know how long he's been ill to judge on how it has inflicted on his form.”