TalkingShop: Tom Boonen – 100 & Counting

Paul Burgoine talks to Belgium cycling superstar Tom Boonen (Omega-Pharma Quickstep), who this week at Paris-Nice, celebrated his 100th victory on stage 2 from Mantes-La-Jolie to Orleans.

Paul Writes…  It was an apt stage to reach his century of wins with strong cross winds and wintery weather so similar to what we can see in the Belgian classics. Boonen managed to get himself into the front group on the road on that stage and was then given a superb lead out by Nikolas Maes. After the stage Tom said “as you know I am not into statistics but I am very happy, not a lot of riders can reach this goal.”

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Stage 2: Paris Nice and the 100th win for Tom Boonen. Photo: John Pierce/PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

I asked Tom if the changes made in the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) course will make any difference in the way he approach’s the race this season. He replied it was impossible to say as he hadn’t ridden the new circuit yet and that this was a question that all journalists were asking at the moment.

Tom added he thinks that a huge selection will be made on the first of three accents of the Pattenburg and Oude Kwaremont. “It will be very interesting for sure and a fantastic spectacle for the fans” he added. “But we will have to ride it first to know how to approach it.”

I asked if there was less pressure on him in Belgium now, given the success of Philippe Gilbert and other Belgium riders. “Pressure is not a factor for me now. I’m 31 years old now so I have learnt to cope with pressure. I am happy there are riders like Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet; we can share the popularity and it is all good for Belgium cycling.”

Omega-Pharma Quickstep have had a great start to the season. I asked Tom if there are any defining reasons for this? “To be honest nothing much has changed” he replied. “At the beginning of last season though, Sylvain Chavanel was injured and Nikolas Meas crashed in Paris-Nice so these things put us back a bit.”

“We now have a more complete team with Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin so we can compete in Tours for General Classification and Bert Grabsch and Tony in the Time Trails.”

With HTC-Highroad having disbanded at the end of 2011, a lot of riders and staff went to Quickstep. Has that made a difference I asked Tom? “The riders that have come from HTC are all very professional and high quality. Riders like Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch bring a lot of technical experience regarding Time Trailing with the development of new materials and positioning on the bike – this is very helpful for the progression of the team.”

Boonen in TT mode and helped by the riders and staff from HTC who joined the team for 2012. Photo: John Pierce/PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

One of Tom’s key leadout men is Gert Steegmans. How does Tom feel with him back in the fold? “It’s great. Gert did a very important job for us in Qatar and when I have him and Nikolas Maes helping me out, it makes me happy. It also depends on the parcours on how you approach the sprint and what lead out is the best option.”

Andy Fenn
Although still very young, Andy Fenn has made a big impact already this season and has shown his potential with a good result in Paris-Roubaix (Under 23s). Does Tom feel it is too early in his career for him to have a serious chance in the race?

He replied, “I have not ridden with Andy much, only at Kuurne Brussels Kuurne where he had to pull out of the race, but he has won some good races and a couple of stages in Majorca this season for us. For sure he will go well in Paris Roubaix, if not this year, then defiantly in 2013.”

Boonen , like Johan Museeuw before him, is regarded as a classics rider. Asked whether he could also challenge for a Points jerseys in any of the Grand Tours, he replied “it really depends whether the team are aiming for a high placement in General Classification. It’s hard to target the Points jerseys and I never think about it. I target stage wins first then, if you can win a few, it’s possible to defend your jersey.”

On the subject of the Classics, apart from Fabian Cancellara, Tom says that his main rivals at Flanders/Roubaix will be the likes Sep Vanmarcke and Johan Van Summeran. “BMC are looking very strong with Thor Husovd (BMC) targeting Paris Roubaix and of course Philippe Gilbert (BMC)” he added.

“You can never tell in these race as last year showed with Nick Nuyens in Ronde Van Vlaaderen and Johan Van Summeren in Paris Roubaix, you just ride your luck then you need to take your chances when they are given to you. Also, you can never tell who is on form until a week or so before, you need to be in peak fitness to win”

Qatar — a happy hunting ground for Tom Boonen. Photo: John Pierce/PhotoSport International UK USA Asia

The Cavendish Factor
Asked does he have the power and strength to compete with the likes of Mark Cavendish, in a flat out sprint, Tom replied “Mark is the fastest man at the moment. I have never considered myself a 100% pure sprinter – I’m more a classics rider, but with good speed. I can beat Mark in certain conditions.”
Their paths may cross in London for the Olympics. Is that a race that Boonen will target in the second half of the season? “Yes” he replied. “It is a big objective. It’s becoming more important for cyclists, after The Tour de France, when your career has ended you will be remembered for it and it would be great to win a gold medal for my country.”

Asked has cyclo-cross ever been a discipline he’d like to race, Tom says “no, I do it just for charity from my heart. I only train on a cross bike in the winter or when I am staying in Belgium because my house is very near a forest. Mol, where the cross race is held, is a fantastic setting with a lake, some hills and a section through the sand. But no cross racing for me…. just training.”

Two riders in the team have achieved in a great deal in disciplines outside of the road, Ijo Keisse on the track in Six Day races and Zdenek Stybar in cyclo-cross. Can they bring that success to the road?
“Iljo will be great for the team” says Tom “He just needs to get some more races completed and keep up the training. He is already very talented. Zdenek has already proved himself on the road with good results last year in The Tour de Swiss and Four days of Dunkerque. For him, he needs to keep learning it’s a step by step process.”

Finally, I asked Tom how he sees his future career in cycling as he gets older? “I said when I was 24 that I doubted I would still be racing when I was 31! But, I feel revitalised now and I’m enjoying my racing, I feel I have a good relationship with everybody and I feel very relaxed, I think I have a few more years in me yet ;-) ….”

Thanks to Tom for his time and his team Omega-Pharma Quickstep

At 31, Tom Boonen is a more relaxed professional in the World of cycling. Photo: John Pierce/PhotoSport International UK USA Asia


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