Anthony Tan wonders, is there any reason, any reason at all, to doubt Tom Boonen holding aloft a fourth piece of pavé come Easter Sunday in Hell?
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

The 110th edition of Paris-Roubaix is fast approaching, but the first time in a few years, I'm not that excited about it.

Don't get me wrong, I am a little anxious, and I will stay up Sunday night to watch it, Cornetto or Magnum in hand (I'm yet to decide which – decisions, decisions…), but I'm not''Big Kev excited', if you know what I mean.

Why? The answer's really quite obvious: right now, Tom Boonen is by far the strongest rider, and Omega Pharma-Quick Step is by far the strongest team.

While many including myself have been critical of Fabian Cancellara and his alpha male way of racing, I have never said I wouldn't want him in the race, and never will. Simply by his presence, he creates a visceral aura that before a pedal stroke has been turned, intimidates lesser opponents to the point where they're already thinking about the availability of hot water by the time they hit the showers.

Last Sunday in Flanders, when he crashed exiting a feed zone with 62 kilometres remaining, it was if someone had turned off a huge, blinking red switch that read 'animate'.

The entire peloton – sans Boonen and Omega Pharma-Quick Step – didn't know what to do. So fearful were they of Cancellara, they were all waiting for him to launch one of his famed though predictable attacks, which most likely would have been delivered in spades on the third and final ascension of the Oude Kwaremont.

Plenty of ifs and buts may be inserted here but judging by his preternatural strength at Milan-San Remo, I reckon he would've got away and won. Because though he prevailed even Boonen admitted he had a bit of an off day, evidenced by his inability to launch a race-winning attack (although after Cancellara exited stage left, collarbone broken in four places, he didn't have to), and being tailed off ever so slightly on the final climb of the Paterberg by Alessandro Ballan and Filippo Pozzato.

What is virtually beyond doubt, is that had the 360-metre climb of the Paterberg been the 1.2-kilometre-long Muur-Kapelmuur instead, as most Belgian fans think it should be before race organisers broke a 31-year tradition, Cancellara would have certainly won, for this was the scene of his launching pad in 2010 when the Swiss Time Lord simply rode away from Boonen en route to victory.

But Fabian will not be with us till July. And so by default, Boonen has become the new Cancellara. The Marked Man.

Those whose clothing does not bear the Omega Pharma-Quick Step moniker will simply watch those whose apparel does bear the OP-QS stamp of approval. A stamp that says we are the best, we know we are the best, and you might as well take the rest.

The only element swinging in The Others' favour is that unlike Flanders, Roubaix is more unpredictable. Intimate knowledge of every twist and turn is not imperative for there are no bergs and less bends, and crashes and punctures are common as cobblestones. Boonen may be one of those unfortunate many, though I hardly wish it upon him or his team.

However so solid is his squad, as shown by the 11-man break with 32km to go in Flanders that contained no less than three wise men from OP-QS (Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Sylvain Chavanel), even if Tommeke were to puncture or crash without hurting himself, he would likely have the necessary support to bring him back to the lead group.

There is one other thing: Boonen has been going full speed ahead since winning two stages and the overall at the Tour of Qatar, which begun February 5 – now two months ago. It means that he's right at the tail end of his peak form – Roubaix will likely be his last stop before taking an enforced rest – and could already be on a downward dip, albeit a very slight one.

Still, I'd say he's got one more monument left in him before he takes to the couch like you and I.

So my question to you this week is not who will win Roubaix but who will finish on the podium alongside Boonen, as he holds aloft his fourth piece of pavé?

Twitter: @anthony_tan