Three-time Paris-Roubaix winner Tom Boonen is back to his best and mixing it with some of the fastest men in the peloton, however the veteran classics specialist has also noticed a new and perhaps reckless aggression at the close of races.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Reflecting on the capricious nature of sprinting, the 2005 world road champion wrote on his blog that once the "bullet" has been fired there's not much left but instinct in the run up to the finish.

"Sprinting is not only hard riding on a bike," Boonen wrote. "The most important job is done beforehand when you load your revolver. The brain is 100 per cent active at that moment: left, right, that wheel, there's a hole. From one decision to another. Around you it is chaos, a wall of sound. Your receptors are incredibly sharp. Eyes, ears and feeling: they are working perfectly. As a human you are on the top of your being."

In last weekend's Milan-San Remo Boonen experienced all the chaos that comes as a race enters its final moments, with his quest to improve on his 2007 third place at La Classica di Primavera stopped in its tracks on the back side of the Poggio.

"I had really good legs, maybe the best legs ever in Milano-Sanremo," Boonen said. "It was always under control and the team did a really good job for me. They kept me in the first 10 to 15 positions in all important moments of the race. Then on the Poggio I was seventh or eighth when we took the corner to go downhill. I was really good, the team was with me, and we were in good position ready to fight for victory.

"Then, in the first part of the downhill a rider crashed, and I was just behind him. I had to brake, and lost 100 meters. Because of that it was impossible to come back. Matteo (Trentin) was fortunately on the other side of the road. He had no problems with the crash that affected me. He was in the first group. In any case I am in good shape and I am ready to fight for the next races in the coming weeks."

That danger exists in road racing is obvious and Boonen, like so many of the men in the professional peloton, still deeply feels the loss of Wouter Weylandt as he persists in plying his dangerous trade.

"Wouter's death didn't change me as sprinter. Before his accident I knew the sport was dangerous and sprinting is for sure. There are real cowboys who shoot their bullets in the wild. Riders who cross the street from left to right or pull at your steer in the middle of a sprint. In the past they spoke badly about Tom Steels throwing his bidon. But it was an intuitive reaction, nothing compared to what happens nowadays."

Boonen looked back to a decade where he regards some of the fast men of the period as almost gentlemanly in their approach to the craft.

"In the 10 years I've been part of the bunch a lot changed. In the past there was more respect. McEwen, Petacchi, Zabel and Cipollini said, 'OK, you were fast today. I will win tomorrow'. Nowadays the guys take too big of risks. They push the line sometimes. Even if you have to explain it time after time it is hard to get by the supporters: we have the right to live our own life. When it is too dangerous, I just don't take part in it."

Smart thinking by Boonen.

This scribe remembers a time when the peloton was entertainingly terrorised by the likes of the enigmatic Djamolidine Abdoujaparov. The Tashkent Terror was famed not only for his Tour de France Green Jersey win but also for the way he did it - madly crashing on the Champs d'Elysee then creeping in under the supervision of the medics.

But as they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. If Boonen thinks today's sprints are manic affairs then he should jump into his trusty Tardis and take a visit to 1991, just to see how life used to be.