4. Tom Boonen: The longer the better
Tom Boonen’s spring season — and to a larger degree, his reputation — was already saved before the start of the 2012 Paris-Roubaix.
After a string of injury-plagued, sub-par seasons, “Tomeke” was back at his best. He was hot off a rare treble, sweeping to victory at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, winning the Ronde for a third time.
The only pressure came from what he put on himself. Realizing that he was on his best form in a half-decade and with arch-rival Fabian Cancellara out with injury, Boonen had nothing to lose, yet everything to gain when the pack rolled out of Compiègne, France. Some six hours later, Boonen equaled history with a fourth chunk of France’s most famous pavé and he did it thanks to an audacious, long-distance attack.
Nearing the final hour of racing, Roubaix saw its most critical moments. Boonen’s teammate Niki Terpstra surged clear of a chaotic mix of riders, with Boonen quickly marking the friendly wheel. With about 55km to go, “Tornado Tom” simply just kept going.
Riders hesitated in his wake. Sixty kilometers to go? That seemed too far to hold off a determined chase. Boonen didn’t look back. When he did look over his shoulder, he saw fewer and fewer riders capable of keeping within eyeshot.
Boonen barreled into the Roubaix velodrome 1:39 ahead of Sebastian Turgot, the best French result since Frédéric Guesdon won back in 1997.
Boonen was back. Bolstered by his sublime Roubaix victory, he has a chance to make history in 2013. A healthy Cancellara might have something to say about that.