In the aftermath, who-did-what-wrong in Paris-Roubaix, two tactical decisions received the most criticism: Filippo Pozzatto’s failure to follow Tom Boonen’s long range attack and Team Sky’s insistence on protecting two, not just one rider, as they attempted to chase the Belgian down.
First, let’s deal with Master P. The basic race logic is that unless you’re Fabian Cancellara, it’s near impossible to simply ride away from a motivated chase group — especially on the cobblestones at a distance of 50k from the finish. Pozzato looked for help closing the gap from fellow Italian Alessandro Ballan but the BMC rider still hadn’t recovered from his efforts to regain the group. When he said no, Pippo hesitated and Boonen was gone.
Now, Pozzato was full of confidence, loaded with form and gliding over the cobbles. He not only has the power but the grace to ride them and make it look effortless. As Omega Pharma QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere put it, you could put a water glass on his back and he wouldn’t spill a drop.
Pozzato had every formulaic and time honored reason not to try to close the gap on Boonen when there were still fifty kilometers to go. But he made a huge mistake because he should have jumped on Tommeke’s wheel immediately. Our logic is, yes, if it’s Edvald Boasson Hagen or Luca Paolini or even Ballan, you let him go. But not Boonen.
If the winner of this year’s E3, Gent Wevelgem and Flanders makes a decision to hit the gas, you stick with him. Pozzato has been accused of being a wheel sucker but in this case, he should have been just that. Boonen was the clear favorite and should never be given a gap of any kind, anywhere on the course, no matter what section of cobblestones he’s riding on. Conclusion: Pozzato screwed up and later the Cycling Gods punished him, by knocking him off his bike and out of the race.
The second decision that armchair critics and pundits took issue with was Team Sky’s chase efforts. Sky under-estimated the power of Boonen by making the assumption that with four Sky riders in the chase group, they only needed two — Ian Stannard and Matthew Hayman, to catch him. By protecting and saving both Edvald Boasson Hagen and Juan Antonio Flecha from chase duty, they perhaps made a crucial error of miscalculation.
Again, pure logic and principle put the odds of pulling back Boonen pretty high. He’s riding alone up front, fifty K to go with at least two Sky guys and maybe Rabobank with Lars Boom pitching in to kill him. Again, we come back to the Pozzato scenario. If it’s any other rider besides Tornado Tom alone in the lead with that far to ride, it’s the right call.
But not any other rider, it’s Tom Boonen and he’s dominated the season since San Luis and Qatar and almost every race since. Sky played it too conservative and careful and needed to make a call that perhaps they were afraid to rule on. Flecha or Boasson Hagen? Flecha missed significant race time and was still recovering from a hand injury and he’s riding 27 sections of cobblestone. Boasson Hagen is supposedly on form but he certainly hadn’t made the podium in Flanders or Roubaix before.
Up to Sky team management to make their pick but we would have gone with Flecha because of his proven track record in Paris-Roubaix and we just never see any fire from Boasson Hagen. A huge talent but we think there’s something missing. Yeah, he’s a quiet Norwegian but gimme the guy who shoots the arrows.
Two tactical errors and Mr Tom Boonen is now Mr. Paris-Roubaix.