By Brecht Decaluwé in Kortrijk, Belgium
Coming into this year's Paris-Roubaix it seems as if the Belgian Quick Step team will be the team to beat on Sunday. One of the team's protected riders is Tom Boonen. After a disappointing Ronde van Vlaanderen in which Filippo Pozzato covered every move from the Belgian star, Boonen is now keen on making up for that shadow fight on the cobbles of Roubaix. Being a specialist in one-day races and having few chances for a big win, Tommeke bears the burden of pressure over the pavé.
"I'm always under pressure so that won't be a difference," Boonen said, showing confidence after the team's reconnaissance ride in northern France on Friday. "With the sensations I have I know what I'm capable of," Boonen stated. "The last few weeks, and even the last few days, my form has continued to improve; I peaked to perfection. During the Ronde I wasn't able to drop Pozzato, which normally shouldn't be a problem."
Knowing that the form of the 28-year-old Belgian, who was a top favorite ahead of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, is still improving, he remains in that position for Paris-Roubaix. "This race suits me even better than Flanders. Cavendish says I'm getting old," said Tom Boonen. "With my body it's easier nowadays as the selection over the cobbles is made early on. If you look around you with forty kilometers to go there's only about 15 riders left. It's an honest race; if you're good in Paris-Roubaix then 9/10 times you're in front," Boonen said.
When asked about his race plan, Boonen said he didn't have one going into the 'hell' Classic. "I had a plan in Flanders and that didn't work out too well," Boonen said, referring to the shadow game with Filippo Pozzato. "I'm not the type of rider who focuses on other riders during a race; there's not much chance of luck with such a tactic," Boonen said.
Having his party spoiled the way it happened during the most important Flemish race isn't keeping Boonen from liking the game. "Every year I'm coming into these races with the same hunger and diligence to win them. The day that I'm lacking that I'd better start doing something else," Boonen said.
The win from Devolder in Flanders and the annoyance from Boonen may result in Quick Step trying to set up Boonen for the win, leaving space for rumors on an internal battle on who will be the sole leader. Boonen left no room for misunderstandings and pointed out how Quick Step will be riding on Sunday. "There are three protected riders: Stijn [Devolder], Sylvain [Chavanel] and myself; there's no pecking order. We're teammates, not rivals. You can't take away the right to have ambition to be a good rider," Boonen said.
Besides the two Belgian team leaders, Chavanel will be flanking the Quick Step trident, even though it's been eight years since the French ace last raced Paris-Roubaix. "Sylvain will certainly be riding the finale, he has the ability to do that. He already proved in other races that he can ride the cobbles," Boonen said about his French teammate.
When asked about the riders from other teams he expects to ride near the front when approaching Roubaix, Boonen named Fabian Cancellara, Martijn Maaskant and Juan Antonio Flecha. "I don't think Cancellara is in bad shape. Martijn is still young and though I haven't seen him doing grand moves, he's capable of hanging on which is more than enough at his tender age.
"Of course we are the favorites; we don't need to get rid of that role," said Boonen. "We didn't have the luxury to make a selection out of twelve riders, but the eight riders at the start are all really good. Of course, we're missing a rider like Steven De Jongh, but Matteo Tossato is taking over that job. Still, the language is a problem sometimes. We'll need every man because in a race like Paris-Roubaix you can make the difference with the team."