Tom Boonen (Quick Step) won Paris-Roubaix with a perfect ride on the pave and a powerful final sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.

Boonen had been under pressure after his team mate Stijn Devolder won the Tour of Flanders but responded with pure class, beating Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) in the sprint.

?I?m especially proud to have beaten two great riders like Cancellara and Ballan,? Boonen said just after crossing the line.

?I felt really good today and this proves that I?ve been on form for the last three weeks despite what some people have said. I had a bit of cramp in the finale but I still won the sprint.?

?After such a long race and at that pace, anything can happen in a sprint, but when we reached the velodrome, I surged and it turned out I was the freshest. I didn?t look back but I think the gap was big.”

?I never lost confidence but when you win just a few less races, people say “he?s not as strong as he used to be”. I?ve already won six races this season and tell me how many other riders have done so?? Boonen concluded.

NATURAL SELECTION ON THE PAVE

Despite forecasts of rain and wind, the cobbles were again largely dry with only the odd puddle and muddy section causing problems. As ever the 52.8km of cobbles, punctures and crashes caused a natural selection with the strongest riders emerging as the race went on and Roubaix approached.

The Forest of Arenberg caused the first real selection with a group of 25 riders going clear as they emerged from the long straight stretch of cobbles. The only big names missing were Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) who had crashed just before. They chased and eventually got back on but spent vital energy chasing and would later fade out of contention.

George Hincapie (High Road) punctured for a second time with 56km to go and missed out on yet another chance of lifting the winner’s cobble stone. He got some help from team-mates Roger Hammond and Bernard Eisel but his race was virtually over as Devolder attacked up front from a front group of eight big-name favourites that had formed on the five-star 3km long Mons-en-Pevel sector. O’Grady jumped across to Devolder but the move would not be a repeat of last year’s race or last Sunday’s Tour of Flanders as Leif Hoste (Silence) fell into a team tactics trap and was forced to lead the chase.

After Devolder and O?Grady were pulled back, Boonen, Ballan and Cancellara went clear just before the Templeuve l?Epinette section of pave, 32km from the finish. It was the perfect selection, the perfect number and they quickly opened a gap as they worked together, while their team mates and rivals controlled each other behind.

The Carrefour de l?Arbre section, 15km from the finish, is the worst section in Paris-Roubaix and the rough cobbles often decide the race. Cancellara tried to accelerated at the start to get away and Ballan initially struggled to get on his wheel but Boonen came past the Italian and the three stayed together as they sped through the huge crowd.

Boonen had a dig on the short Gruson sector a bit later and Cancellara even tried a move on the road afterwards but with only 10km to race, it was clear the final sprint in the velodrome would decide the race.

As by far the best sprinter of the three, Boonen was obviously favourite for the sprint and Ballan lead out clearly knowing he had little chance. The lanky Italian tried to accelerate down the back straight but Boonen powered past on the final curve and was clearly the strongest. Cancellara failed to respond and Boonen opened a 10 metre gap and had time to throw his arms in the air and celebrate his second Paris-Roubaix win.

Martin Maaskant (Slipstream) was a surprise fourth at 3-39, 2007 winner Stuart O?Grady was fifth at 3-57, Leif Hoste (Silence) was sixth at the same time and Stijn Devolder was seventh at 3-59.

Hammond finished a disappointed and angry 23rd at 7-18, after crashing into another rider and hurting his hand 60km from the finish.

RESULTS

1. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) 259.5km in 5-58-42
2. Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC)
3. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre)
4. Martin Maaskant (Slipstream) at 3-39
5. Stuart O’Grady (Team CSC) at 3-57
6. Leif Hoste (Silence Lotto)
7. Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
8. Johan Van Summeren (Silence Lotto) at 4-35
9. George Hincapie (High Road) a 5-12
10. Fabio Baldato (Lampre) at st.

Tom Boonen defies the critics to clinch the 2008 edition of Paris-Roubaix. Photos by Luc Claessen/ISPA

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Reports and reaction

Analysis: What if the cobbled Classics were a stage race?
Boonen wins his second Paris-Roubaix
Hammond?s hopes wrecked by crash
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Previews
Boonen says he?s 100 per cent fit
The Cycling Weekly preview

Photos
Paris-Roubaix 2008 photo gallery>>