(AFP) Tom Boonen said he had no regrets after his final race as a cycling professional ended in a disappointing 13th-place finish at the prestigious Paris-Roubaix.
The ‘Hell of the North’ was the race that made Boonen a legend more than any other but he was unable to bow out with an unprecedented fifth victory as Belgian compatriot Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) triumphed for the first time.
At 36 years of age and after winning more than 100 races during his career, Boonen said the time had come to hang up his bike.
“The last few weeks it has been a rollercoaster of emotions and everybody seems to just be enjoying every last minute of racing that I’ve been giving them, even if I didn’t win,” said the Quick-Step Floors leader. “It was very difficult today, it was really hot.”
“For me this is the best race in the world – I love it! And also it’s just time for me, I’ve been feeling it already since last year. I’m still able to do good races and if I motivate myself I’m still able to do a good World Championships, for example, but it’s time and I’m happy its finally here.”
Such is the high esteem in which Boonen is held that his Quick-Step team dedicated their entire strategy to trying to help him win.
Even Zdenek Stybar, who was part of a three-man breakaway that would contest the victory, didn’t start thinking about his own chances until right at the end.
“Today we went just 100 percent for Tom. All the team was supporting him and everybody, out of our hearts wished he’s going to win – we did all we could to make it happen,” said Stybar, who finished second.
“Before the race I didn’t have the idea to ride for myself or sprint for the win. My biggest dream was to come with Tom here on the velodrome together.
“Of course I’m disappointed with second place but on the other hand I didn’t come here to go for the win. It was only in the last 4km that I heard on the radio: ‘OK, go for it’.”
“Tom’s a very special person, a very kind person, he’s very friendly – if you can you just do anything for him. I didn’t feel we have to, but we would give 100 percent for him because he deserves it.”