Paris-Roubaix: The Moment The Race Was Won

Boonen Terpstra breakaway

A fast start, an early breakaway, crashes in the Arenberg forest. So far, so typical of Paris-Roubaix.

Then with 56km to Tom Boonen and team mate Nicki Terpstra got a gap and then on the cobbled section at Auchy-lez-Orchies, Tom Boonen rode away from his team mate, launching a solo move that saw him ride to a record-equalling fourth win in the queen of classics. This was the moment the race was won.

It was cold on the startline but riders soon warmed up. The first hour saw the race cover 48.4km as moves tried to go clear but kept getting chased back. Every team wanted to be in the move so every time something went it was chased down by a squad that had missed out. Finally after 70km a break of 12 got away.

The break hit the Arenberg Forest cobbled section together but blew apart after a NetApp rider slide and then crashed, taking down others on what looked like damp cobbles. Behind, the bunch rolled over the cobbles in a more stable manner, led by Sylvain Chavanel.

It was after the Arenberg section that the first serious move went with Alessandro Ballan trying an attack with Juan-Antonio Flecha and several others. But Omega Pharma – Quickstep shut down the escape thanks to Gert Steegmans’ hard work. When it came back, another team card to play and Sylvain Chavanel went up the road. The French champion was joined by a small group of less known riders, mostly French from which Europcar’s Sébastien Turgot jumped away.

Behind Boonen tried a move and was followed by Filippo Pozzato and then Terpstra and Ballan came across. The cobbled roads are alleys where the gods bowl misfortune and Chavanel was struck by them with a puncture. In no time the Frenchman went from being at the front of the race to the back. All because of a puncture.

Boonen, Pozzato, Terpstra and Ballan caught Turgot. The Frenchman looked the odd one out but he’s finished on the podium of Paris-Tours before and is the sort of bulky rider who should excel on the cobbles.

Then came the moment of madness. Boonen and Terpstra went clear, two team mates in tandem putting time into Pozzato and Ballan. Terpstra was working with Boonen but Boonen himself was going some giant turns. And it was on the cobbles of Auchy-lez-Orchies that Boonen rode away. There was a crosswind here and so there was little shelter on Boonen’s wheel.

Boonen breakaway
Zooming on Terpstra's pain

With 54km to the finish Boonen was leading the race alone. This wasn’t supposed to happen.

In 2010 Fabian Cancellara attacked with 49km to go and soloed away. It was a bold move but you expected Cancellara to win, especially since there was little in the way of organisation from the chasers. It was impressive and his ride earned wild praise but all the same there was a sterility and certainty to the win. Cancellara rides away in the same way bears defecate in woodland. Once he got a gap the result seemed certain and it wasn’t great TV.

By contrast Tom Boonen launched his move earlier than Cancellara. He kept going, a sensible idea since it forced the others behind to work in order to catch him but I thought he might ease up and the outcome was never certain. After all if he was caught by Pozzato and Ballan then he’d outsprint them, no? But he kept going.

Devolder Pozzato fall

Behind dark Skys were gathering on the front of the peloton and the British team set to work in a chase, putting Matthew Hayman and Ian Stannard on the front of a chasing group that swelled to 14 riders but from which Pozzato crashed, sliding out on some dust in a corner and taking Stijn Devolder with him. But only the Sky team were chasing and this was to Boonen’s advantage. As hard as Hayman and Stannard could ride, Boonen matched them, even taking out a few seconds here and there, all whilst in the group behind many riders hitched a ride with Sky’s work. It was a thrilling chase and Boonen was visibly straining as he rode solo. He is no metronome chronoman.

With 26km to go Boonen’s lead hit one minute as his directeur sportif Wilfried Peeters roared him on. With the gap growing, the group behind was racing for second place, especially since Sky’s efforts fizzled out and nobody would join them. Lars Boom was the first to make a serious move, taking off with 17km to to. He came back but then Ballan went and was joined by Boom and Flecha. In hindsight again you wonder why Boonen was away up the road when he’d be expected to win against these guys in a sprint?

The answer is because Boonen could ride away. So he did. He knew the feeling in his legs, he knew the others might nor organise and besides he’d won the race three times before and had already won The Tour of Flanders, Gent Wevelgem and the E3 Harelbeke. Why not?

Boonen rode on and deserves every praiseworthy adjective you can send him. It was a masterclass of bold riding and power and highlighted the what the French call the attentisme of those behind. You’d normally translate this as “wait and see” but let’s call it “waiting-ism”, like some policy whereby the group of 14 chasers waited for Sky to reel Boonen in, or for him to crack. Only Boonen didn’t wait.

As if to make matters worse for the waiters, just Flecha, Ballan and Boom were readying for the sprint in the velodrome only to get caught by Turgot and Terpstra and it was Turgot who outsprinted them to second place. A feat more impressive given he’d broken some spokes on a wheel – after riding into Ballan earlier – and the rim was rubbing the brake blocks.

Better still for Boonen he now equals Roger De Vlaeminck as a four time winner of the race and also joins Rik Van Looy as someone who has won the cobbled trio of Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders and Gent Wevelgem in the same year.

Finally a salute to all 86 finishers who made the time cut – judged as 5% of the winner’s time – and the other 27 riders who soldiered on only to be eliminated by the commissaires. All 113 deserve praise and you can download the full results here (PDF) to salute their names. George Hincapie made the cut… but Fred Guesdon was just a few seconds outside after 258km.

Tom Boonen rode the last 54km of Paris-Roubaix solo and this is the longest winning moment I can remember in any one day classic.

74 thoughts on “Paris-Roubaix: The Moment The Race Was Won”

  1. Had never noticed this before but it seems Boonen doesn’t wear gloves(!).. I wonder why? And does anyone else in the peloton do this?

  2. Not a classics rider by any stretch, but I remember Chris Horner frequently eschewing gloves. I’m sure there are lots more.

  3. Great effort by Tommeke. Good to see him back – great guy, rides hard, never whines and shows good sportsmanship.

    I’m curious as to why BMC didn’t make an effort to try to reel Boonen in. If they could have caught him with 10k or so to go, that might have given Ballan a chance to go. OTOH, I think half the guys didn’t really believe that Boonen still had it in him – was it in 2005 or 2006 that he had attacked and soloed off to win either Flanders or P-R?

    Having a powerful sprint does make him a lot harder to game-plan against than, say, Cancellara, who is pretty much a one-trick pony (a very good trick, but still…)

  4. Impressive! I kept thinking “this was a mistake, he must have wanted someone to come with him”. I expected him to be caught within 20 milometers, but he kept going and Sky did all the hard work and BMC and Rabobank overestimated their strength, and realized too late, that they wouldn’t catch him.

  5. He usually rides without gloves. It’s impressive given some tape their hands and try other things to soften the vibration of the bars. But others like to feel the road. It tells us Boonen isn’t the victim of the cobbles but is ready to take what they’ve got and fight back.

    Boonen’s ride today was huge, perhaps I didn’t emphasise this enough above but it was a bold move and the way he kept building the lead was giant.

  6. The weird thing to me was that it looked like this wasn’t Boonen’s plan A. I think he wanted Ballan and Pozzato to go away with him but they wouldn’t. He wasn’t riding particularly hard when he went away – he was looking back in fact. I think he just saw that he was clear with a teammate and thought – hey, why not keep riding.

  7. I’m still confused about how Boonen and Terpstra got away, the camera wasn’t so close but it seemed like Pozzato just left a gap and Ballan didn’t close it (or the other way around), it was only when Boonen saw he’d been given a wheel that he went for it. Anyone else see the same thing?
    Sky having the numbers possibly ruined any chance of a cohesive chase. That picture shows just how much better Tom was than Terpstra (who came in 5th) and gives an indication of how much better he was than the rest, today. Pippo seemed to crack, mentally. I was impressed by Boom, and lastly, totally gutted for the FDJ rider, who was about to make a name for himself before an untimely puncture.

  8. @JC: Not only did Boonen not wear gloves, he had no tape on his bars. The guy is industrial-strength tough.

    Years ago, I learned how best to handle rough roads (cobbles, pothole-filled country roads, rocky trails, etc.) from Eric Heiden. Long after retiring from 7-Eleven, Eric told me stories about his TDF and Paris-Roubaix experiences; he said that the key to remaining stable on cobblestones is to keep a loose grip on your bars. Your gut might tell you to hang on for dear life, but it’s the opposite that keeps you stable. If you let the bike sort of “dance” as it goes along, it will choose the route of least resistance — it’s just physics. And it works.

    Putting the death grip on your bars through many kms of cobbles will bring only tense muscles, pain and fatigue to your entire upper extremity. Relax and let the bike do the work. What a feeling to experience your bike “dancing” beneath you. Confidence and trust build that you will indeed stay upright (barring any other factors that will take you down).

    Tommeke is a Master of handling the roughest of roads and conditions with what appears to be ease.
    Fitness, experience and luck are probably the other three biggest factors in winning Paris-Roubaix.
    Congratulations on an exceptional, historical win today, Tom! Amstel Gold next up.

    BTW, I saw Pippo go down with Devolder but he got back on and continued riding; I noticed he didn’t finish the race. Was this because he missed the time cut or another reason?

  9. Innrng: Do you know why Boonen allways ride with his shirt open, – it doesn´t seem too be aerodynamic – however he won/rode like this in both Flandern & Paris Robaix.

  10. Regarding Turgot’s win by the slimmest of margins: Europcar was running the fattest tyres at P-R. 30mm CX tubulars, in fact.

    Fodder for the fat rubber crowd, I guess.

  11. Last year Jose Ibarguren was team doctor for Lotto and Gilbert won all around. This year Jose is team doctor for Omega and Tom and team have +20wins already. The whole Omega team appear head and shoulders above the others. Looking into Jose’s past and being the doctor at Saunier Duval during Ricco/Piepoli it leaves me very uncomfortable about the dominance.
    As for todays race Boonen had to go. He had one rider to control 14 others in the break. They would have been worked over heavily. If he went up road at worst a small group of the best + willing riders would come across and be advantage Boonen. As it turns out they never made it back to Boonen.

  12. Kim: I saw him unzip the jersey late in the race, he was simply getting hot. As much as it might be unaerodynamic, you have to keep cool and he seems prone to overheating.

    Kieran: yes, I’ve kept my eye on him for some time (something a few people have emailed me and discussed via twitter about too). He’s been with other teams at bad times too and I’ve wondered why teams hire him given his past association with scandal. But correlation… or cause?

  13. Seems to me that Terpstra deserves a ton of credit for disrupting the chase that Sky were attempting to organize. They had 4 or 5 men in the chasing group and every time the camera showed the chasers Terpstra was sitting second or third wheel and disrupting Sky’s efforts to get fresh legs to the front. Fantastic tactics by him after Tommekke dropped him and went solo.

    I also think Boonen need to prove to everyone that he could win in the same style that Cancellara is known for. Whatever it was that caused his bold move, chappeau Tom.

  14. The atmosphere on the cobbles was electric, nothing I have ever experienced has been close: stunning. The best race I have been to. People kept asking us if we wanted Tom to win: we did.
    Seriously, that was the st sporting event I have attended.

    By the way, it looks to me that Boonen had double tape on the tops of his bars, I’ve just examined my photos, which is pretty damn close.

  15. Rumsas, Landaluza, Ricco, Mayo, Piepoli and Aitor Gonzalez (some others I can’t recall too) have all tested positive at teams Ibarguren has been at.
    It does seem a little suspicious that phenomenal performances have followed him around in recent years, but that’s all we can say.

  16. This is probably going to ruffle some feathers, so apologies, but here goes:

    I mean in no way to belittle what Tom did today, but I have to think if Garmin or BMC had the numbers Sky did in the chase, Boonen would have been caught. In going back and forth from Tom to the chase, one could see a stark contrast in styles–Tom was hunkered over the bars, forward on the nose of the saddle, riding on the rivet. He was fighting for the win. When it went back to the chase, they were upright, almost soft pedaling. Their mouths weren’t open, trying to urge extra air in to fuel their muscles. They were comfortable in the saddle (as much as you can be on cobbles) and every time it switched between the two groups you could see the differences in appearance. It wasn’t until that attack by Boom that people started to mimic Tom’s position on the bike. Earlier Sky had 4 men on the front, but they weren’t pulling through. It seems that them being there was more for show than actual work. As you point out, it seemed only Stannard and Hayman were working.
    As David Gorton said, it seemed that there was a 4 man break, and then Flecha and Pozatto just let Boonen and Terpstra go. Surely he would come back, they thought. And I feel like everyone after that thought the same thing. “After cooking alone for 50k, we can beat him in a sprint.” But the seconds slipped away. I thought that they would keep him around 30, but it kept creeping up, and by the time he had a minute everyone realized that, barring puncture, it was over.

  17. Bit harsh to say Cancellara’s style of winning was sterile. Chapeau to the man who can ride away from his peers, especially when they knew what he was going to do. Didn’t Boonen switch off, drift to the back of the group and open the door for Fabian? Not the brightest fella 🙂

    By the authors rationale this race was just as “sterile” when Boonen attacked (only 6km earlier than FC) and dropped Terpstra. The body language of the chasers Ballan, Pozzato and the Sky team said it all. Game over.

    Speaking of contrast, Cancellera didn’t have a smoking hot/confident/super strong classics team behind him capable of closing all breaks and hammering the front like Boonen did yesterday which makes Cancellara’s victories all the more remarkable to me.

    Sterile and cycling shouldnt be used together.

  18. For the first 10k when the riders from other teams gambled on Sky pulling back a sufficiently tired Boonen to drop or beat in the sprint, I thought that was not a bad tactic really. But when the gap kept increasing and still Sky was the only team chasing, that seems like a collective mistake by the group.

    But that’s interesting in cycling, Boonen attacked and stayed away not just because he was the strongest, but because he made a move that other riders (and most TV viewers) underestimated, knowing well that chase groups often don’t cooperate well. That’s of course no certainty and a risky move, but I think that’s exactly what makes this win more impressive. He was not only strong physically but also mentally.

  19. It was such a shame that Pozzato crashed. He was looking equal to Boonen as seen in Boonen’s initial acceleration. The gap was sitting consistently at 20 seconds and it seem inevitable Boonen would be brought back on a section of cobbles by Pozzato after resting in the pack for a little while. But when Pozzato crashed Boonen would have gotten the word to give it full gas knowing full well that his biggest rival for the race was out of it. The time gaps began to increase straight away.

  20. Thanks for the great blog Inrng. The race was awesome display of power and endurance from Tom and his team. They took the opportunity presented to them.

    However, it’s hard to judge any performance like the one Boonen put on without a just a hint of scepticism. I mean, sure, it was a masterclass in how to ride on cobbles and Boonen is in a sweet sport in terms of form, but the guy held off – and subsequently put time into – a posse of world class riders for 50+km in the toughest parcours in pro cycling. Spartacus and his ‘motorbike’ aside, who does that??

    After reading the comments about Ibarguren and his history I’m really starting to wonder…and feel a little bit deflated, tbh.

  21. I’m surprised that some people are questioning Boonens performance. It’s not like he hasn’t won this race before. Discounting out of competition cocaine use, he has never tested positive to drugs, why would he tarnish all his other victory’s. With Paris Roubaix, you don’t really have an advantage drafting due to the cobble sections. You may as well be up the front safe than out the back drafting. He learnt the mindset of the group the hard way in 2010 and he knew they wouldn’t work well together and he knew they couldn’t bring the time back over the cobbles because he would be the fastest rider on course anyway.

  22. Too bad Pozzato doesn’t have any team mates. A bit difficult to do much when Boonen, Terpstra, Chavanel are all on top form. Omega has had the best of lady luck on their side this year. Turgot gets my toast as the most impressive today. Hopefully the race will be a bit more of a mystery next year. Cheers.

  23. I don’t understand what Pozzato and Ballan were thinking when they let Boonen and Terpstra slip away. Pozzato actually stopped pedaling and started looking over his shoulders. Another big disappointment was the Sky team. They had a key for success but they threw it away.

  24. Wil Matthews: Cor Vos, I have a deal with him.

    Marcus: it was still a big ride by Cancellara but with 40km to go you could have gone and done something else for a while and returned to watch the podium ceremony. To his credit he made it look clinical.

    Matt: maybe because it was madness for Boonen to go away with 56km, enough of a surprise to hesitate.

    As for the others and Dr Ibarguen, it is worth asking. But if others have tested positive when he’s been on a team, so did half the sport on teams he was not on. Today there are many teams employing doctors who have been on badly run teams in the past.

  25. Boonen’s a phenomenal athlete just as Gilbert is. It just strikes me that all that the various teams’ management decision to retain this tainted doctor’s services only serves to place question marks in some quarters over their performances. Performances which may very well be clean and truly the wonders that we all want to believe in. But questions still get asked, and rightly so. Are there really so few medical practitioners working in the sporting world that they have to use him, and so create grounds for these questions? Seems unnecessary, and (probably) a massive disservice to Boonen’s achievements.

  26. Excellent race report. If you want insight and informed comment, come to INRNG, ain’t it the truth.

    Ref comments, looked to me that Boonen and Terpstra got to ride away due to a lack of co-operation between the trio of Pozzato, Ballan and Turgot, in a “I’m not pulling if you’re not coming through” way. Even so, massive committment from Boonen to take it on from so far out. Interesting to note that the only time the gap between chasers and Boonen was stable was when Stannard was on the front and that after bridging across to the front group. Strong as an ox, deserves a bit of freedom from domestique duties.

    As always, many hard luck stories. Chavanel obviously on a very good day but punctured. Hushovd who remarkably finished 14th after a heavy fall and a subsequent puncture. Devolder who was brought down by Pozatto who may have been close to getting back to a significant result after his “wilderness years” FDJ’s Lagdanous who flatted at 13kms when in the Ballan, Flecha group after being “up there” most of the day and of course Fred Guesdon, cruelly credited with HD in his last participation after an earlier fall and delay as far back as sector 21.

    Paris Robaix has to the most intriguing race on the calendar, one of those races which rewards hours of viewing as there is always drama, suspense and heartache even in the early stages. Wonderful event, impressive winner………. Dodgy doctor?……… I do hope not.

  27. Thanks for the great blog again, I love your post-race analyses as they add an extra layer to all the existing race reporting. You actually proviede analysis and depth in stead of just regurgitating what happened in the race.

    To me it was surprising to see that Rabo was finally taking up a leaders role during the race. However, I keep feeling that the move from Boom was a tactical mistake – and this made the difference between 2nd or 6th place in the end.

  28. Obviously I don’t know much but I was simply amazed by this, once Terpstra could not stay with his leader I did’nt think it would be possible for Boonen to ride away on his own and stay away from the chasing group for 50km. Incredible and humbling to watch.

  29. Boonen is safely among the all-time greats in Cycling history, and yesterday was probably his masterpiece, the greatest performance of his not-yet-finished career. Can’t imagine him ever besting this performance though.. I’m fairly new to cycling and after Cancellara’s 2010 classic exploits I thought that was a true campaign for the ages, not going to be topped for many many years, then last year Gilbert’s stunning display of dominance upped the ante, and now Boonen pulls off another historic Classic campaign. I think we’ve all been properly spoiled by the excellence of the past few Classic seasons.

  30. Just awesome! Boonen pulls away a la Cancellara, yet if you catch him near the finish you’re still facing one of the premier sprinters. With Boonen’s new tactics in this year’s classics, and Thor H’s recent hill-climbing success in the TDF, are we seeing something new in sprinters’ late career development?

  31. @bart
    “For the first 10k when the riders from other teams gambled on Sky pulling back a sufficiently tired Boonen to drop or beat in the sprint, I thought that was not a bad tactic really. But when the gap kept increasing and still Sky was the only team chasing, that seems like a collective mistake by the group.”
    This is what drove me crazy — the chasing group just gave him the win. I can see them letting him dangle and waste energy but given some of the individuals in the chase (Boom, EBH, JVS) given cooperation they should have been able to easily pull him back. However, he still has that nasty sprint so maybe that is why nobody wanted to put in the effort to chase him down

  32. We saw only highlights on Belgian TV when we got back to the hotel, where it looked like everyone was waiting for Tommeke to arrive, including some TV crews. Nursing a nasty head cold I gave up waiting after awhile and went to bed. So no comments on anything tactically other than it looked (from the TV highlights) like Pippo waited to see what the others would do, letting Boonen get away with a member of his own team – big mistake and of course it went from bad to worse for those who hesitated. We were at the end of the Arenberg forest section but walked the full length and it was dry. A bit of dust was kicked up by both cars and bikes as they passed. We then raced to the finish and waited at the end of the cobbled stretch, where they make the right turn onto the road into the Velodrome. Reports were of Ballan leading but of course those were wrong. We saw Boonen blow past with an amazing gap on the others.
    Eye-witness stuff – the technique of the good guys on the cobbles is tough to see on TV, same with the cobbled surface itself.The sound of the bikes clattering on the stones is something TV doesn’t pick up either. I think you get only about 80% of the whole experience via pictures or video, the full 100% requires being there in-person. We just returned to Sicily this afternoon so I’ve not even looked at our photos yet. During the week will have more words and photos from our trip, including some from the Ronde museum, though I make no claim the quality of ANYTHING there holds a candle to anything you read on this blog! Great report and comments as usual!
    BRAVI to all!

  33. The strongest man did win. He would probably ride with no helmet if they let him.

    In an effort to make a more interesting race next year at P-R, as well to give the other racers a sporting chance. The UCI should handicap Tom and Fabian by making them ride old stock Schwinn Varsity with solid tires ( Non American participants perhaps the heaviest 10 speed bike of all time sold in the US)

  34. when he made his move (i watched on the Sporza feed…no thanks to NBC), i thought surely this is doomed to failure. But that’s what i get for questioning all time greatness.

  35. Mama Mia! What was going on with the Italians?
    Pippo blew it big time. I would have liked to see him leave Ballan in the dust. Last week was last week. Forget that guy. New time new race.
    Does Sky have a one day team? Why do they always ride like it’s a stage race?
    I was confused by their chase especially after the gap went over 30 seconds.
    I understand one man pulls on the cobbles and the guy for that was Stannard.
    With four riders in the break though on the road sections why not rotate a few at higher turns.
    At that point in the race you may lose a rider but there will also be riders going out the back and Flecha is your guy with the experience so you need to get him there to do his thing.
    Same deal for Rabo. Why didn’t Wynants go to work for Boom?
    The way the race unfolded really left me wanting…to see a bike race. : (

    The two men who rode to make the race theirs walked away best this year.
    Hat’s off to Boonen but Mr. Turgot, magnifique! I believe every pedal stroke my friend.

    I’m thinking Europcar will be making the most out of LeTour 2012.

  36. @Marcus: Cancellara’s 2010 solo was an impressive one – but his lack of a strong classics team only comes later when he joins Leopard/Nissan/Schleck – in 2010 he was still riding for Saxo Bank. His team included a strong Matti Breschel, and the ex-winner Stuart O’Grady.

  37. I agree with David Gorton – when the break of Boonen, Pozzato, Ballan etc. was nearly caught it appeared as if these latter two simply let Boonen and Terpstra go away, probably thinking they would regroup and the attacks would start up again. I think that was the key moment of the race.

  38. mr inrng could you perhaps add some analysis on the mindsets of the other teams who chose not to drive the defence against TBs solo escape , leaving it to just one team

  39. Just a thought, but would the non-Sky members of the chase group have been more interested in chasing if there were only two Sky riders in the group, rather than four?

  40. What a great read, again, thanks!

    Boonen was impressive, but unlike Cancellara I wasn’t sure he would stay away, so clearly it was a much more interesting race than 2010.

    There were some very interesting moves, that’s for sure.

    Why did Sky protect EBH, I’ve no idea.
    Maybe hoped that they will catch Boonen, and nobody will counter, and he can sprint for the win?
    He lost 8 minutes by the finish, so he must have felt that he is not good enough.

  41. I think it was a nice way for Tomeke to say “you know what…to all the question marks you were thinking about fabian not being here, how about I show you that I would have won just the same even if he was here”

    Slightly boring today but in “explaining” to the wife I said “boring, but the boy (19 months) will ask about it in 20 years time – “Did you watch the year Tomeke rode away from everyone?” whereas last year’s, say, Flanders, was impressive and more exciting to watch my boy won’t be asking about the year Nick Nuyens won in 20 years time”

    And this is all based on the very certainty that my boy WILL be a cycle sport fan…. 😉

  42. @ Simone: I truly like to believe that Gilbert, Boonen, Cancellara and other top cyclists who win frequently are clean.

    I agree that there will always be question marks over riders and/or teams that employ physicians who have tainted pasts. There are certainly plenty of good orthopaedic surgeons and other physicians who work within Sports Medicine, that teams do not need to hire docs with sketchy pasts.

    Several teams have GMs who have sketchy reputations at best (Lefevere, Bruyneel, Riis, etc.). There is sometimes an unacceptable/tainted environment created from the top down; if a GM has unethical issues in his past, and a DS, individual doctor(s), right down to a Soigneur, then that team is rotten at its core. It’s like having two parents who are exceptionally poor role models; ya think the kid’s gonna turn out well and feel good about his “team?”

    Sadly, some riders (and management) don’t care, it’s just win at all costs and take stupid risks along the way.

    I think familiarity, longevity and pressure from these docs (and politics) are why they get recycled through a variety of teams. I think that teams should “clean house” and rid themselves of these questionable, so-called professionals with ethical issues and charges in their past (and present?).

    I like to believe that the majority of the peloton in 2012 does care and does want the negative history behind it.

    Look at BMC: they employ Dr. Massimo (Max) Testa and Eric Heiden MD (5-time Gold medalist speed skater; 7-Eleven Cycling), both of whom have impeccable reputations and are respected to the nth degree (they also have three other physicians on their medical team). Yes, there are plenty of excellent Sports Med physicians worldwide who could be hired who don’t have ties to Operacion Puerto and the like.

    I’d much rather focus on pure cycling than the continuing (potential/probable?) doping problems long-associated with the sport.

  43. As I watched Boonen pull further and further away I felt that it was more strategic than anything for him to do so, not because “he could”. My rationale was that if he had any sort of foul-up (flat, mechanical, fall) his lead could disappear instantly. Look at what happened to Chavanel. He knew he had the legs, it just made sense for him to gain as much time as possible to make sure he could survive a mishap and still get the win.

  44. @ Roadie61:

    Completely agree – and look at the results for BMC? Coincidence?

    What get under my skin the most, is not that Boonen looks superhuman, it is that there are Teams and riders honestly trying to do it the right way, and they get overlooked by the media and fans by the guys who WIN, even when we question the reasons for their victories.

  45. A bit late to comment, but is there any mention of how the gap formed from the apparent hesitation of the group behind Boonen and Terpstra when they apparently looked to isolated Pozzatto to do the chasing? And quite rightly he declined to do this.

    A truly wonderful win by Boonen, I loved Cancellara’s win in 2010 because it was the rare occasion that the strongest rider won. This year was kind of the same, what makes it so special is that it was Boonen doing it in such a manner.

    Chapeau Monsieur Paris-Roubaix!

  46. Kieran – interesting re Dr Jose Ibarguren. I think cycling teams need to be held accountable for the people that they employ. Journalists need to asking teams to explain why they hire people with these histories. Quite often it is just the riders that cop the scrutiny/criticism while the shadowy doctors/soigneurs/team helpers continue to circulate anonymously amongst the teams, sometime presiding over numerous riders who test positive while in their care and the teams are never held accountable.

    The distinct impression I get and the reason we only read about this stuff on excellent blogs such as the Inner Ring (rather than in more mainstream media such as the cycling magazines, large newspapers, etc) is that those people (the mainstream press) have a vested interest in not probing these issues too deeply lest they not get their press accreditation from the ASO (for the Tour, Roubaix, Vuelta, etc), the UCI (world championships) or not get invited on free junkets to watch star teams’ training camps in Mallorca. If you rock the boat too much your access will be cut off.

    I would like to see a complete list of prominent team personnel currently involved in pro cycling and their history (which riders/teams they have worked with, etc) and for someone with access to the management of the relevant teams to put these facts to them for explanation – particularly to those team directors that pay lip service to clean cycling.

    A few examples:
    – What is Neil Stephens doing working for Green Edge – rode for Manolo Sainz at ONCE (a man with questionable credibility), rode for Festina at the peak of their doping, directed the unrepentant “Piti” Valverde at Caisse d’Epargne for years. Guilty or not, isn’t that a bad look for a team seeking a title sponsor?
    – Why is Bepe Saronni still employed by Lampre after the embarrassing wire taps leaked by Gazzetta last year?
    – Patrick Lefevre – presided over some suspect wins in cycling (eg. The 1-2-3 finishes of Mapei in Paris Roubaix), hired multiple known and convicted dopers including Franck VDB, Richard Virenque and Lauren Dufaux, worked with Museeuw during the period where some of his wins “weren’t completely honest”. Why isn’t this ever mentioned?

  47. Patrick: see the Cyclocosm blog for the video Cosmo Catalano does some great video editing but stopped for a long time although I think his video work planted the seed for the “The Moment The Race Was Won” pieces on here. Glad to see he is back.

    Roobay: good points. As it happens I’ve also been thinking about compiling a list of team staff, I just need the team. I’ve covered Neil Stevens before ( and note Katusha’s chief team doctor has even spent time in prison for doping offences… but there are many others, so many. There is – I must check this – a new rule that those with new convictions, ie not years ago, can no longer work with teams.

  48. @Cat4Fodder

    Are you implying that Tom Boonen is using PEDs. Really his performance is not superhuman for Paris Roubaix. He rode off on his own chased by half arsed hesitating riders who don’t possess half the amount of skill and control over cobbles as him. He had taken advantage of that and elevated himself into a very commanding position in the race. Paris Roubaix is not a race for riders to hide in a group only to emerge for a final sprint. It rewards riders who take the bull by the horns and aren’t afraid for a fight.
    Why must we tarnish every race or performance with whispering of PEDs. Even your precious BMC has sadly been linked to drug activity, ever heard of Sven Schoutteten.

  49. As someone who can’t afford a Eurosport subscription and has small children who would prevent a relaxing watch of this classic, I just wanted to thank you for this piece as it enabled me to really enjoy it and understand the feat Boonen pulled off. Cheers.

  50. I was at the Paris Roubaix very fortunately as a VIP guest of OPQS. It was an immense race, made all the more outstanding by Boonen’s solo ride off the front. It is only when you are there that you realise how punishing it actually is and the guys just collapsing off the bike after their lap of the velodrome was testimony to the effort they had put in and the energy they had expended. These made Boonen’s feat even more outstanding.

  51. For me the doubt arises when we see a rider perform in a way that is totally out of character. Yes, Boonen has won P-R three times before, but never like that. Cancellara’s was different because that’s his style, the world’s best time trialler, not surprising that he could solo to a win from 46km. Boonen’s never done this before has he? It’s a bit like Cancellara soloing to a Tour win on Ventoux.

    As said above, it’s a shame the teams use people with suspect backgrounds, which means doubts will always arise and questions be asked. It’s sad that a remarkable performance like that makes one suspicious, but it’s happened so many times before. Personally I don’t actually believe Boonen is doping, but there’ll always be that question mark.

    By the way, Boonen does use bar tape, double thick, at all races. He tried it a few years ago at P-R and decided it suited him and uses it all the time.

  52. Just one other point, I disagree with those who criticise the commitment of the chasers. There might have been a delay in their response but Sky had some strong riders giving it plenty. There were some pretty experienced classics riders in the group.

    As for the cobbles negating any drafting effect, firstly, I suspect there’s still a pretty decent effect (look at the different expressions and body language of the riders killing themselves on the front like Stannard and Hayman and the likes of Boom on the back) and, secondly, only 20% of the race is actually on cobbles.

  53. I did time Boonen’s last 10km, he covered it with an average of 42.6 km/h.
    He was very tired by this point, but I think it’s far from impossible.

    It was mostly cross winds, if I recall well, and in some sections he received shelter from the TV bike riding next to him.

    Would be interesting to compare his last 50km’s pace with Fabian’s in 2010, even if the wind was different.

  54. My general opinion on PEDs and cycling is you just have to hpe riders are clean if you want to enjoy watching the race. But I do think that it’s worth noting that the cobbled classics tend to produce less positive winners than the Ardennes and Grand Tours. Since 1999 L-B-L has had nine wins go to riders not just suspected of drugs, but caught. Fleche Wallone has seven over that same period. Roubaix has zero over the same period (Museeuw admitted to using drugs later in his career, but not in a year he won) and Flanders also has zero (though Ballan is currently under investigation).
    Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but I doubt it. I just think the demands of the cobbles are different. the riders aren’t constantly accelerating, its attrition, strength and skill over the stones.
    So yeah, Boonen was impressive, his win didn’t come out of nowhere so I’m going to continue to beleive he did this clean.

  55. @Gingerflash

    Boonen soloed to the velodrome from the Carrefour de l’Arbre in 2009. Admittedly, it’s a considerably shorter distance (~20k, iirc), but I would suggest this year’s exploits at P-R isn’t out of character. Rather, and I don’t want to diminish his achievement, but I think he was helped by a confluence of events (ie, no Spartacus, crashes which effectively eliminated Pozzato & Hushovd, and questionable tactics by the chase group).

  56. Nobody can prove they didn’t dope, only that they passed all the tests. Tommeke’s had his issues with recreational drugs and I wouldn’t scream “he’s clean, he’s my hero!” like some whining fanboy, but I’d want something a bit more concrete than some innuendo about his doctor before I questioned his sporting ethics. It’s right up there with claiming Cancellara used a motorized bike in my opinion. If this doctor worked with Gilbert last season, does that mean Gilbert was doped?
    I too wish the sport would toss out questionable characters but the UCI (as we well know from reading some of the great stuff here) is itself run by some questionable characters. Doctors, trainers and the like should be licensed in the same way the riders are, so if they’re involved in some shady dealings they can be UNlicensed rather than just switch teams and start over. In the end I don’t believe that the majority of the folks who are involved with pro cycling at present really want it to be clean, they prefer the appearance of a clean sport and minimizing bad publicity from positive dope tests more than anything else. Sadly, that’s been pretty much the way since bike racing began.

  57. For anyone planning to visit the race next year, if you ride from Arenburg to the Finish starting early Friday morning you can ride for a bit with the teams as they go by. This year we saw Rabobank, Lampre, Sky (got pic of me from behind on their facebook page) and also road with Quickstep which involved riding side by side with Boonen for 2o odd seconds and big smile on face! You can’t really describe the feeling of riding on the cobbles except that your bike feels as if it will shatter to pieces at any point.

    Unfortunately with 3 miles to go until the finish a car took me out on a roundabout and was left with a folded rear wheel, broken supersix frame and heavily bruised arse. We later found out that they were letting riders in the velodrome for a lap or two which made it even worse. Maybe next year.

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