SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) have dominated the classics over the last nine years. Between them, they account for 12 wins in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix — two-thirds of the total on offer.
Something has been missing in recent years, however. Cancellara crashed in De Ronde in 2012 and abandoned with a fractured collarbone. Last year, Boonen crashed in Gent-Wevelgem and early into Flanders, forcing him to abandon and miss Roubaix. The tête-à-tête Boonen/Cancellara rivalry faded.
“I missed it,” Boonen told VeloNews. “I don’t know what the fans missed, but of course, I missed it.”
Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders and Roubaix last year. Boonen won both the cobbled monuments the year before. But it goes back further.
Boonen, the Belgian former world champion from Mol, picked up the pieces for U.S. Postal Service after George Hincapie crashed and placed third in Roubaix in 2002. In 2005, he won Flanders and Roubaix for his first double. Cancellara managed eighth in Roubaix and Boonen went on to win the world title that year in Madrid.
The next year, Boonen won Flanders and the Swiss from Bern took his first monument with Roubaix. From there, they went back and forth for more than half a decade, only missing out in 2007 and 2011 when other cobbled warriors won both races.
“The newspapers always want to try to pit two guys against each other,” Boonen said. “That’s interesting, that’s what the people like, and that’s what the newspapers like to write about: Two guys and their rivalry, all that stuff that goes along with it.”
Boonen, who was waiting for the team presentation at the Tour de San Luís, shook his head. He said that the races are more than just about two riders. He named Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and others as antagonists in the cobbled classics that for so long played out as a two-man shooting match.
“When you start, 20 to 10 guys could win, two to three are stronger than the rest,” he said. “It would be stupid to think that you are irreplaceable. You can tell by looking at last year; I crashed out but there was still podium and good race. The world keeps turning.”
Eyes on the prize
Despite his disappointing 2013 season, Boonen, 33, has his eyes on the target. After recovering from an elbow injury and broken rib, he returned last year and won a stage in the Tour de Wallonie. He has much bigger races in his palmares, but it signaled a comeback and put him on course for 2014.
Boonen opened his 13th professional season Monday at the Tour de San Luís in Argentina. Cancellara will wait until the Tour of Qatar in February, but the Belgian isn’t paying attention.
“I’m not the guy who will change his tactics in a classic because of his opponents,” Boonen said. “I never won a race because I was looking to someone else. You either will lose the race or get stuck behind with guys that won’t ride anymore. You can’t get overwhelmed and you must stay focused.”
Boonen is opening his season in January, but is focused on April, when the cobbled classics should once again see a great duel — but with riders like Sagan answering the call, there will be more than two big guns blazing in northern Europe.