I skulked away from cycling in 1996, totally disillusioned after watching super-charged Riis win his Tour. As a result I wasn’t driven to distraction by the re-birth of Armstrong as I had gone beyond caring at that point. However, in 2004 I was buying a new bike and had been put in touch with the main Trek importer who was going to do me a good deal. There were screens around the showroom screening Lance romping up Alpe d’Huez and the staff cheering on another victory for Lance and Trek. I walked out in disgust and went elsewhere to buy a BH (worst bike I ever had), but in a strange way it re-fired my interest, and I started watching cycling again.
The following Spring then, was a special experience watching Boonen land the Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, and what seemed like every other race he deigned to ride as well. I had a new hero, and I was back in the game. If these three weeks or so in March/April is the best time of the cycling year (and they surely are) then the names most associated with the Spring races are very special - and Boonen sits proudly alongside the very best. And so the years since then have been regularly punctuated by Tommeke visiting the top step in the Spring, a seeming constant that always made me feel a bit happier, until this week when he finally has his swansong.
There are two memories that stand out for me in particular. Memories that are chalk and cheese, night and day, but they encapsulate sport and competition. The first memory is of Cancellara pulverising the field, but in particular Boonen, in Flanders and PR in 2010, and wondering how anyone could fully recover from such a beating - and his woeful showing in 2011 (he finished outside the Top 100 riders in the world) suggested he was a spent force. The second memory is Tommeke’s magnificent ride in Paris- Roubaix a couple of years later to complete his second Flanders/PR double. Not only had he bounced back completely, but he gave a masterful display of cobble riding that might have left even the greatest names of the Spring Classics gasping for breath. Apart from a few kms riding with Terstra, who was soon jettisoned, Boonen rode the last 50kms on his own, and I swear that he couldn’t have ridden a couple of centimetres off the perfect line over those 50 kilometres. For me, he was sheer poetry in motion as he inexorably pulled second after second from the chasers and left them broken.
It would be just too romantic to expect the perfect signing off tomorrow, but I don’t think anyone who loves cycling would begrudge him a historic fifth win. So farewell Tom, and thanks for the memories.
Thanks Gerry, a rather nice memory. Genuine. Real.
Besides having a superb first name, Boonen is a guy I have come to pretend I know. I guess fans do that. I like him. I still remember when he was helping out Hincapie, who I dearly wanted to win. Crash. Boonen got third, I think. Who is this guy? I know a bit more now. _________________ Politics and Cycling in the South of France
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