Tom Boonen has looked invulnerable in classics finales over the past two weekends, but Thor Hushovd is confident that he can beat the Belgian in a sprint should the pair arrive together in the velodrome at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
Hushovd has endured a difficult start to life at BMC since joining the expensively-assembled squad during the off-season, but in spite of those travails, he was optimistic about his chances of living with Boonen on the rocky road to Roubaix.
“I think I can follow Tom on the cobbles and also I know that I can beat him in the sprint,” Hushovd told reporters in Kortrijk on Thursday. “That’s not that I say I can beat him every time but I think also he is afraid of me in a sprint on the velodrome.”
At the Tour of Flanders last weekend, Boonen was content to control the attacks Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) and Hushovd's teammate Alessandro Ballan, such was his belief that he would outsprint them in Oudenaarde. Hushovd expects the Belgian to be a little more eager to seize the initiative himself on the pavé this Sunday, in spite of the rapid finish he has at his disposal.
“I think he’s going to race aggressively. He’s always like that,” Hushovd said. “You never know what’s going to happen so it’s always better to get to Roubaix with as few riders as possible.”
Hushovd arrives at the second Sunday in April with question marks over his own form, after illness temporarily sidelined him after Paris-Nice last month. Although he has never enjoyed a particularly happy outing at the Tour of Flanders in his career, he admitted that he was particularly disappointed with his showing last weekend in Flanders.
“I was confused after Flanders, my condition wasn’t there. I thought I would be much better, but I’ve recovered well since and I got back the good feelings,” said Hushovd, who has followed up low-key Flanders showings with leading roles at Paris-Roubaix in each of the past three seasons, including podium finishes in 2009 and 2010.
“I’ve been through similar things before where I’ve been bad in Flanders. I don’t know why, but I struggle to have a good day in Flanders and be there in the final but I’m positive now,” he said. “If I was really good in Flanders I would have more confidence but I still know that for me Roubaix is a different race to Flanders.”
Hushovd was reluctant to dwell too deeply on last year’s Paris-Roubaix, where team orders saw him play a marking role behind while his Garmin companion Johan Vansummeren soloed to victory. With the in-form Alessandro Ballan seated to his right at Thursday’s press conference, Hushovd knows that a similar scenario could easily arise at the star-studded BMC set-up.
“I will not go into details about last year because that’s the past but here we have a really strong team and that’s what you need in these races. If you have more guys in the front, you have more of a chance to win as a team,” he insisted. “All the big teams and the favourites will kind of look at each other. If Omega see one BMC guy go in the break they’ll want to be there and it’s the same with all the teams who have big leaders or potential winners. You don’t see a big group at the end of Paris-Roubaix so if we can get there with one man more, that’s a big advantage.”
Now 34, Hushovd dismissed the idea that he is running out of time to realise his dream of triumphing on the Roubaix velodrome. Winner of the under 23 version of the race in 1998, Hushovd has fallen just short as a professional.
“I’ve come step by step, and if you look the last three years I’ve always been up there and closer and closer. I know that I have at least 3 or 4 more years to play for the win,” he said. “If you look at Duclos-Lassalle, he waited many years and I still have some years left.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.