Monday, April 9, 2012

Komentaar - 09 April 2012

Wow. Just wow. We are speechless. The way Tom Boonen of OmegaPharma-Quickstep (OPQS) was able to win his fourth Roubaix was just astonishing. Today Tom Boonen has equalled both the record number of wins in de Ronde van Vlaanderen (RvV) and Paris-Roubaix (PR). What else is there left to say that is not already obvious?

Here are our impressions.

Weather played a big role in the race

In our preview we obsessed about how the weather would turn out in this last week. It turned out to be the perfect Roubaix for speed: particulates on the cobbles were just slightly damp, thus there was no big dust plumes like in past year, but at the same time it wasn't slippery. Last Sunday's Roubaix turned out to be one of the fastest editions in history, the fifth fastest in fact. The four faster editions were run in 1964 or earlier. However, woe are the unlucky ones - Filippo Pozzato and Thor Hushovd - who slid over the side of pave that was left slightly more damp than its neighbors' due missing sunlight. Just like vintners will tell you, there are occasional trees whose fruits didn't age right because of the side of the hill it grows on.

Let it be remembered that both RvV and PR were run on new parcours

That's right: the 2012 edition of both RvV and PR featured new parcours. It was dramatic in RvV, and less so in PR. We think that PR did a much better job with their route change than the RvV did. PR accepted that the Arenberg trench is iconic, and kept it in the race even if it is moved significantly farther away from the finish. RvV just outright removed the Kappelmuur, which we still mourn. We give a chapeau to the PR race organizers for their good work in maintaining the character of the race.

If anything else, Boonen's win in PR reminds us desk jockeys that no amount of quantitative analysis and told-you-so can compare to the cool head of an experienced winner and that of a wily directeur sportif. An armchair directeur sportif (DS) would be yelling into their screen that Boonen was throwing his race away. But a wily DS like OPQS's Wilfried Peeters has been in this situation before. Indeed, in 2002 his first stint as DS in Paris-Roubaix saw his former patron Johan Museeuw attack with 40 km to go in a very muddy Roubaix to take his last win. We look forward to Peeters sharing his impressions.

Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra had strengths of winners, and this was Lefevere's 11th Roubaix win

Without the puncture and slow wheel change, Chavanel would have been up there just in time for Tom Boonen to make a bridging attempt, per OPQS's original plan. And while Terpstra was ultimately dropped by Boonen, if he had played his cards differently in the last 100km we think he would have easily finished in the chase group. We agree with DS Peeters that this is one of the team's greatest performances as a team. Boonen stole the win, but it owed much to how the team controlled the race up to that point, and also beyond that point.

All this talk is testament to Lefevere's success in building his team after last year's "failure season". It is his 11th win in Paris-Roubaix, and we think there will be more to come.

Ballan should consider jumping ship at the end of the season

Among others, Alessandro Ballan's contract expires at the end of this season. Team BMC had maintained their faith in Ballan and offered him a one-year extension last year. Given how well he has been doing compared to the expensive stars on the team, the writing is on the wall that he can make more money and/or win more races when he is the top protected rider on the team.

Filippo Pozzato may have blown a fuse

Pozzato's return from a collarbone injury is astonishing. And Farnese-Vini is a team that seems genuinely invested in helping him. Verily, he has as many fans as he does detractors. A playboy image matched with trash talking will do that to a sports star. He could blame former manager at Katusha Andrei Tchmil for not being accommodating to his personal problems, but doesn't being a "professional" suggest that one has to be able to keep one's personal problems under control?

If anything else, we think that his announcement of a "tribute to Franco Ballerini" may be interpreted as a thinly-veiled comeback at both his new sponsor Mario Cipollini and the current Italian national team selector Paolo Bettini, who came into his position due to Ballerini's untimely passing. Both Cipo and Bettini have criticized Pozzato for lacking leadership qualities, and in particular Bettini has been criticized for not being quite to the level of national team selector Ballerini was.

Lest we be misunderstood, we think highly of Ballero, but such tributes should be unveiled AFTER one has earned the win that the tribute is intended to be. And lest we forget, when Ballerini rode his last Roubaix, he unveiled "Merci Roubaix" only after he crossed the finish line.

Posturing and failing to match one's pre-race self-promotion is seriously getting annoying. Unfortunately, as his Twitter account suggests, Pozzato may have blown a fuse ... somebody please send help his way.

Might a French classics renaissance be far off?

Sebastien Turgot deserves credit for catching and then slaying the group of chasers who were dally-dallying too much as they entered the Roubaix velodrome, all while riding a wheel broken from having run into Ballan earlier in the race. His podium place is the first for a French rider since Frederic Guesdon won the race in 1997 in an upset. Speaking of which, this was Guesdon's final ride in Roubaix, which adds a nice symmetry.

Before we open up a bottle of bubbly and sing Les Marseilleises, Turgot is no spring chicken: he is 27 years old already. Prior to last Sunday his biggest result was third in the 2008 Paris-Tours, overhauled near the finish by none other by Philippe Gilbert. Interestingly, he grew up first a track racer, and we wonder if this helped his sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.

What was your impression from last Sunday's race?

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