Editor’s note: As we ring out 2012, we look at 12 of our favorite stories of the year. Neal Rogers’ profile of Tom Boonen’s rise, fall and triumphant return first appeared in the June 2012 issue of Velo magazine.
In the Eye of the Tornado
When Tom Boonen crossed the finish line, alone, inside the hallowed velodrome of Paris-Roubaix, he’d done much more than just win the sport’s most demanding classic.
By winning Roubaix one week after he’d won the Tour of Flanders — and two weeks after winning both E3 Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem — the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider had silenced his critics, once and for all, proving to the world, and to himself, that he is the best cobblestones racer of his era, and perhaps of all time.
Unlike his sprint wins at Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Harelbeke, Boonen won Roubaix in dramatic style, attacking with 55km remaining and holding off all of the sport’s toughest racers save for one — Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan), Boonen’s long-running classics rival — who was watching the race at home in Switzerland while nursing a surgically repaired collarbone.
With his victory, Boonen had tied Roger De Vlaeminck’s record of four Paris-Roubaix wins; he’d also become the only rider to accomplish the extraordinary Flanders-Roubaix double more than once.
But more important than any record, Boonen had come full circle. He’d closed the door on the endless question marks, implications and innuendo that suggested he’d fallen permanently from grace. He’d proven that he had not, in fact, squandered his talent, and he had not sold short the limitless career that lay before him after his breakthrough 2005 season — a career that has been hindered by obstacles, both external and self-imposed.