—Sky’s doomed chase: As Boonen motored up the road, the main danger behind was from Sky, which had perennial Roubaix top-10 finisher Flecha, surrounded by three strong teammates like Mathew Hayman and Ian Stannard.
The chase would claw back a few precious seconds on Boonen on the tarmac, only to see the gaps balloon out again after cobbled sectors. At the finish, Sky riders lamented the negative racing from some other riders in the group. And while they have a point, it’s not the only point; nor is it the decisive one.
Roubaix is a different tactical beast than any other race. Negative racing can work, but since skill on the cobbles plays a role, it’s not honestly that easy to just sit on a wheel—just look to last year’s win by Garmin’s Johan Van Summeren for proof of that.
What doomed Sky in the end wasn’t negative racing by other teams. They had four riders and Boonen rode away from them. Why? Because at Roubaix, it’s not just about having the numbers, it’s about having the riders who can race the cobbles.
Sky would have done best to drill it on the pavement to set up Flecha for an attack on the cobbles, since he’s much better at them than almost any other rider on the team. Even if Sky sprung Flecha along with a rider like Lars Boom, that would have worked FOR the team since then Boom would have had an incentive to work.
Instead, by dragging the chase group around, they perversely furthered the same negative tactics. I mean no offense to Hayman or Stannard by this, but let’s be honest: They were never going to be able to catch Boonen with a team time trial; Roubaix is not that kind of race.
—Sore hands: Speaking of Flecha, pause for a minute to reflect on his accomplishment. He’s raced Roubaix 10 times; his first year he finished 25th. Since then he’s never finished lower than 13th, never DNF’d, and made the podium three times.
On Sunday he was fourth, despite returning to racing just a week ago, as he is merely six weeks off breaking a bone in his hand. Think about racing Roubaix six weeks off a broken bone in the hand.
—The Rider Who Wasn’t There: It’s all Monday Morning Director now, but you do have to wonder how the race might have been different had Fabian Cancellara not crashed out of Flanders a week ago with his collarbone in 57 pieces.
Would Boonen have been so bold as to launch his move when he did? Would Radioshack have been there to change the team dynamic? Nothing takes away from Boonen’s win, but I think it’s easy to have some degree of what-if wistfulness for Cancellara’s absence.
—Honorary Magnifico Tech Moment: Specialized kinda-sorta soft-launched a new bike this past weekend: the latest iteration of the Roubaix, tentatively called the Roubaix SL4. Then Boonen rode it to the win.
You might recall another recent high-profile launch, of the Venge, last spring, which Matt Goss promptly rode to the win at Milan-San Remo. That makes them two-for-three in wins/bike launches in the past year or so, with the only miss on the Tarmac SL4 ridden by Alberto Contador at the 2011 Tour de France, where he got fifth.
—Hors Delai: Roubaix lists 86 official finishers. In a promising moment for Americans, the top US finisher was Taylor Phinney in 15th; he’s a two-time winner of the under-23 edition of the race and promises great things for the future.
But in addition to those 86, another 27 riders rolled into the Roubaix velodrome without being officially credited with a finish—the hors delai group, outside the time cut.
At Roubaix, you must finish within 5 percent of the winner’s time to be an official finisher. Think about that: Despite crashes, mechanicals, working your ass off for the team or bonking, you’ve got to be no more than five percent slower than Tom Boonen.
Based on the winner’s time of 5:55:22, that means riders could be no more than 17:46 behind. Gert Steegmans, whose hard work pulled back an early break for teammate Boonen, barely made the cut at 17:17 down.
One who didn’t: former winner Frederic Guesdon. The 40-year-old FDJ pro won the 1997 edition of Roubaix, and plans to retire after this year’s edition. Just by rolling out from Compiegne, Guesdon now shares the record for most starts with fellow pro George Hincapie, at an astounding 17 Paris-Roubaix entries.
But in his last race, he finished 18:52 behind Boonen; after more than six hours of racing, he was just over a minute outside the time cut.
Correction: Thanks to the reader who pointed out, on Twitter, that Peter Van Petegem also scored the Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders double in the same season. Corrections are always welcome.