“I already have four, it’s not like a fifth win changes that much for me,” Boonen said. “But it’s one of the last really big goals of my career.”
The Belgian from Flanders currently holds he record with another Flemish rider, Roger De Vlaeminck. De Vlaeminck took his wins in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977, the time when Eddy Merckx and Francesco Moser also fought for their wins.
The Queen of the Classics, which began in 1896 with Josef Fischer’s win, counts many records but not a five-time winner. 33-year-old Boonen could change that this afternoon when the dust settles in Roubaix velodrome.
The team Omega Pharma rider races his 12th time as a professional. In 2002, as a neo-professional, he already showed he was made for the job. US Postal leader George Hincapie crashed and team helper Boonen went ahead to claim third in the velodrome. Except last year, he returned every year. In 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2012, he took home the winner’s cobble trophy.
“Of course, if you win four times, the next thing is a fifth,” Boonen continued. “I can’t say I don’t want to win Paris-Roubaix anymore, I’ve won four already so I’m going for five. If I was going for four, it’d be the same motivation. Like I said before, it’d make everything more special. It’s already special already, but it’d make everything go to the next level.”
To get to that level, Boonen has to cover 257 kilometres and 28 sectors of cobbles. He also must take on the race favourite and three-time winner, Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara.
Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders last week and could set his own record if he wins Roubaix today. He would become the first rider to win the Flanders/Roubaix double three times.
Boonen has struggled to rebound after his partner Lore’s miscarriage. He missed Milan-San Remo and lagged slightly behind in the past races. The Tour of Flanders last week, however, showed that he is approaching his best.
“The last few weeks didn’t go as I had planned but I still had good preparation beforehand. I felt myself improving in the last three races,” Boonen said. “Pressure? I’ll take the start and hopefully turn into automatic mode again. When I feel cobblestones under my wheels, yeah, I always good fast.”
The talkative and friendly Belgian, shrugged off the possibility of failure and said that he has time to reach five. “If I have success, then good,” he said, “if not I’ll try again next year.”
Riders get ready for Sunday's Queen of the Classics. Photos by Graham Watson