PARIS-ROUBAIX: Can Tom Boonen turn hell into heaven one last time?
The retiring Belgian legend Tom Boonen gears up for his last week in professional cycling. After crashing out of last week's Tour of Flanders with a mechanical, Boonen counts on the massive support of his fans as he takes one last shot at a record-breaking fifth 'Hell of the North' win.
After 15 years Boonen's professional career is drawing to a close.
But before he hangs up his bike he is ready to, once again, tackle the win that will permanently engrave his name into the cycling history books, a fifth Paris-Roubaix cobble.
Before last week, Boonen still had two of those history-making moments on the menu.
He also holds a record-equalling three wins in the Tour of Flanders with, among others, Fabian Cancellara and Johan Museeuw.
In fact, that potential record-breaking week has been within his grasp for the last five years.
However, an increasingly strong field of punchers made the Tour of Flanders slip from the Belgian's fingers.
It is the race in the North of France, where he announced his arrival to professional cycling in 2002 by finishing third, that has received his full attention in the last years.
Only last year, Boonen was inched out on the finish line of the Roubaix Velodrome by the Australian Mathew Hayman.
Although he was no favourite, there was only one man who would get the loudest cheer at the start of Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
It was a last chance for the Flemish fans who have supported, and criticized, him throughout all those years to say their good-byes on home soil.
Boonen never truly managed to muscle himself in for the win, but he produced vital work for his team-mate and fellow Belgian Philippe Gilbert to solo to victory.
After the race, Boonen told the Sports Gazette: "It was a pitty because we were working hard.
At the Taaienberg, they always call it my hill there, but my chain got jammed between the two chainrings, and my chances were gone."
The belief in a magical Roubaix race is definitely there, also among the experts in Belgium.
Despite a strong field, with Olympic road champion Greg Van Avermaet and world champion Peter Sagan, Boonen is mentioned at the top of almost all favourite lists.
In the run-up to the Tour of Flanders Belgian radio journalist, Carl Berteele told the Sports Gazette: "He [Boonen] is going to take the Tour of Flanders as a final preparation for Paris-Roubaix. I can tell you, he will win Paris-Roubaix."
Former Belgian cyclist, national coach and current co-commentator for Belgian TV Jose de Cauwer agreed and said that if there is one more race Boonen can win, it will be Paris-Roubaix.
Listen here to the Sports Gazette's radio documentary on Boonen's final week in professional cycling.