2002 3rd, 2004 9th, 2005 1st, 2006 2nd, 2007 6th, 2008 1st, 2009 1st, 2010 5th, 2012 1st, 2014 10th, 2016 2nd.

15 years and 11 top 10 finishes with 4 victories.  That’s Tom Boonen’s record for L’enfer du Nord, the Hell of the North, the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix.

Tomorrow, Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) could make history and step off his bike for the last time becoming the only rider to win Paris-Roubaix 5 times (he proudly sits with Roger De Vlaeminck on 4).  He’s currently second favourite at 4/1 with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) the bookies’ favourite at 7/2.

But are we being over romantic?  Are we believing the hype?  And the romance and hype is good, it is justified and it has been presented with panache from a range of commentaries this week, none better than the Cycling Podcast Friend’s Special (probably the best £10 you will spend http://thecyclingpodcast.com).

Normally having a 36 year old with retirement beckoning as a pre-race favourite would suggest madness but last year’s winner Mathew Hayman (Orica-Scott) was 38.

Boonen hasn’t really done anything this year so far to warrant his status either with key race results as follows:

DNF Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, DNS Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 65th Milan-Sanremo, 8th E3, 6th Gent-Wevelgem and 37th Tour of Flanders.

But let’s see what his pre Paris-Roubaix record was in the years he won.

2005 – 2nd Het Volk, 22nd Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 8th Milan-Sanremo, 1st E3, 1st Tour of Flanders, 26th Gent-Wevelgem.

2008 – 85th Het Volk, 4th Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 28th Milan-Sanremo, 8th E3, 17th Tour of Flanders, 150th Gent-Wevelgem.

2009 – 10th Het Nieuwsblad, 1st Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 15th Milan-Sanremo, 2nd E3, 20th Tour of Flanders, 71st Gent-Wevelgem.

2012 – 2nd Het Nieuwsblad, 42nd Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, 22nd Milan-Sanremo, 1st E3, 1st Tour of Flanders, 1st Gent-Wevelgem.

No obvious correlation here I’m afraid.  I guess this year’s form is akin to his 2008 and 2009 wins.

So what we are saying if I’m not mistaken is that based on his past results, the fact that he loves the race, his awareness of the achievement from a historical perspective, his desire to bow out in style, all trump form.

Paris-Roubaix is unique.  It requires more skill and more luck than any other Monument Classic.  Skill, to control your bike across the cobbled sections, to have an awareness of what’s going on around you, to be there when the final move occurs, to have enough gas in the tank to sprint if necessary on the Roubaix velodrome.  And luck, there’s the weather, the risk of wet cobbles, crashes, punctures, being taken down by other riders.

Paris-Roubaix also requires its winners to have an inner belief, a sense of destiny, a never say die attitude.

Our favourite, Peter Sagan has only finished in the top 10 of Paris-Roubaix once (he was 6th in 2014) so his status is purely down to form, but we’ve also seen how much of a marked man he is nowadays and how other riders won’t work with him.  In a race like Paris-Roubaix, that makes it extra difficult for him this year.

Boonen will have the support of a strong Classics squad as will Team Sky for Ian Stannard (16/1), BMC for Greg Van Avermaet (7/1) and Katusha for Alexander Kristoff (14/1).

But what of that strong Quick-Step Floors squad?  They have Niki Terpstra and 2014 winner (16/1), Zdenek Stybar (28/1) and Matteo Trentin (50/1).  All of these guys have the necessary attributes to deliver tomorrow but are they four-square behind their man?  Are they happy to put Boonen in the annals of cycling history?  Or will they seize the opportunity if it presents itself?

I can’t see past Boonen but I’ll save my shouts of support for Ian Stannard (Team Sky).

In 1985 Theo De Rooy abandoned Paris-Roubaix and as he sat in his team car John Tesh of CBS Sports held an interview:

de Rooy: “It’s a bollocks this race!  You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants.  You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping, it’s a piece of shit…”

Tesh: “Will you ever ride it again?”

de Rooy: “Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

The Giant