Paul Burgoine reports on the Omega-Pharma Quickstep Team Launch in Belgium today with words from Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen
Paul writes … this is the biggest media event I have ever attended and rightly so, the team this season has a wealth of talent and before you even mention the two main men you have the likes of Sylvain Chavanel and Tony Martin, Iljo Keisse on the track and Zdenek Stybar on the Cyclo-Cross scene.
Eddy Merckx greets Mark Cavendish to his ‘velodrome’
The event was being held in The Eddy Merckx Velodrome in Gent and the great man graced us with his presence. As you would expect, the place was buzzing with the excitement of seeing Tom Boonen talk about Mark Cavendish and visa-versa, but before that the team owners, sponsors, back room staff and of course the rest of the team had to be introduced but it was evident that 99% of the press were here for only two riders.
The presentation itself went almost without a hitch apart from, first the presenter falling off the back of the stage then a sponsor. No-one thankfully was hurt in these instances; each presentation was introduced with a relevant video, all building up to the introduction of Tom Boonen and the World Championship TT team.
Patrick Lefevere (CEO) explained why this victory was as important to him, as important as The Tour of Flanders or Paris Roubaix wins because of the fact it was a team performance. Brian Holm (DS) was introduced and asked about Cavendish “He is a good lad, a gentleman, dedicated and quite loud sometimes, but overall he is a winner. Before he won his first Tour de France stage, he urged me to stick £100 on him because he said I will win… and he did, it was the same case in the Worlds.
Mark Cavendish was then introduced to us, asked if he had any regrets joining Omega-Pharma Quickstep he replied “The only regret I have is that I should have done it sooner. It’s a dominant team steeped in cycling history. I was a bit nervous when I joined but I didn’t need to be. In fact I’m more nervous about falling off this stage”.
Boonen and Cavendish looked genuinely happy in each other’s company with Tom saying I don’t mind working for Mark and praising him as the best sprinter in the world saying he is going to win plenty of stages. When Mark was asked what he thought about Tom, he joked “I hate him!” Mark said Tom is like all Belgian’s, smiling and joking all the time and a real good guy and with that he professed his love for the country, Tom jumped in and said he must know different Belgians to him.
After the presentation, I had a chance along with everyone else to get a reaction from Mark, along with hundreds of others, and various photographers resting cameras on my ears. When asked how things were going with the team, Mark said “Yeah great thank you really happy. I’m loving it here such a great group of people. While training in Majorca, we had a great time, a real good group of guys. I’m extremely excited to start racing next weekend”.
When asked what it is he loves about Belgian racing and cycling he said “It’s from the heart, its grass roots cycling as it is, the basics, just ride a bike hard, that’s what I have always loved about it. Things stay quite traditional“
Photo: Tim De Waele
When Mark was asked if he was settled now in this team he said “Every time I have spoken with Peta on the phone.,she has said I have not seen you as excited as this about riding your bike for over a year. It really feels like it used to and it’s how I like to ride and that’s a big step”.
One thing I needed to ask Mark was about the reception he had from the Belgium fans at the Worlds when he rode his final lap on his own, because out of all of Mark’s races last season, this felt special. “The last lap I rode on my own was incredible. It gave me goose bumps. I’ve always had a great feeling for this country. My first win was here and since then I’ve had a kind of love affair with racing here the fans are incredible and the races hard and the culture that is embedded in the lifestyle is something that really warms my heart“.
Tom Boonen was swamped with people when I got to him but I am becoming quite ruthless myself so in with the arm and recorder, I managed to jump in with some questions. I asked Tom if he preferred the old Flanders parcours or the new one with the loop at the finish. “I like the new one actually. It’s not because I won there last year, it’s good for the future. It doesn’t feel like a lap, and it makes it a lot safer for everyone. Its good for both the riders and the fans and it’s a lot harder than it was before”.
Do you feel a lot more relaxed these days about the classics? “Yeah, its different to when I started I never expected to win one big classic but I’ve won a few now. It’s a different approach to the season I know when if feel good and I know what I need to do to be my best, it still excites me… I love it and I still love riding my bike.”
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