News feature, July 14, 2007
No paraskevidekatriaphobia for 'tornado' Tom
Tom Boonen has been under some pressure from himself, his team and the entirety of Belgium to win a stage in the Tour de France, and at last, on stage six, the former World Champion got his wish. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé reports from Bourg-en-Bresse.
'Tornado' Tom Boonen earned his first stage win of the Tour in Bourg-en-Bresse, taking out a messy bunch sprint made more exciting for the Belgian when his derailleur was sheared during the run-in to the sprint. The big Quickstep rider hardly flinched, and rocketed to the line well ahead of Rabobank's Oscar Freire and the now former points leader Erik Zabel (Milram). Boonen was relieved to get the win, and unfazed by the mechanical incident that preceded it.
"We tried so hard this week that it didn't work out," Boonen said after the finish line. "With one kilometre to go somebody [Cavendish] touched my back wheel. My derailleur came off when I was on my 11, it made some noise so I thought it was over again. Somehow I was still on my bike though I had to stay on my 53x11," Boonen said.
Boonen took back the green jersey during the stage through intermediate sprint bonuses, but the desire for a stage win had weighed heavily on him and his team. "For other people there's weight off their shoulders as all the work we pulled off finally delivered," Boonen said. "I've got the green jersey again and I'm proud to have won this stage. So everything is going very good as today I found my good luck back, hopefully it stays for a while. It was only a matter of time before it would come though. From now on Friday the 13th is my lucky day," the 26 year-old 'bomb from Balen' smiled.
This year the Belgian press has been quite critical towards Boonen and many people questioned his confidence. "Right now it's kind of OK I think. I don't think I'll have too many comments. I don't know actually because I don't read the papers anymore and that takes a lot of pressure away. It's always nice to ride races because you like to ride races, I think that is the best motivation and not stress or the pressure of having to do this, do that. Having fun is the best way to win races," Boonen claimed.
Once again the final kilometre was quite chaotic and it seemed like Boonen and Steegmans didn't stick to each other, just like the day before yesterday. "It was the same as the days before but now I found the room to start. Like everyday, the guy who found the room to do his sprint won the stage during the entire week. Of course you have to be strong if there's Freire or somebody else on your wheel, but everything went fine.
"I had some bad luck with my derailleur as somebody [Cavendish] crashed into it. With 250 metres to go I saw there was an opening on the right. I start, and then I think it was Peter Wrölich, I think he saw me coming and he did a very bad manoeuvre, he came to the right and he closed completely. I braked again but then there was Freire in my wheel. Then I had to start again, then I went en bloc to the finish. From that moment on it was just me and my bike riding as fast as possible," Boonen recalled.
The first week of the Tour de France seems to be ridden a bit slower than during previous years. Boonen was asked what the reason for that change could be and if it came out well for him. "One word: headwind," Boonen responded, "and for me, if I ride slow I have bad legs. There's an enormous amount of wind but when there's one guy in the breakaway you can do what you want; you can take him win you want to. From now on it can change, just like yesterday's stage, that's fast enough," Boonen said.
The biggest rival from Tom Boonen for the green jersey is without a doubt Erik Zabel. Cyclingnews asked the Belgian superstar what his tactic would be to wear the green jersey on the podium on Paris. "I am in the best situation to get green. Yesterday was very hard and I knew I had to do everything I could to get in the best possible position for the coming days.
Boonen knows how hard it is to gather points if the stages don't finish in a bunch sprint, and his strategy for the remaining stages is clear. "The mission is simple: I have to stay as long as possible with him [Zabel], but I know he'll take points and I will take some. Right now the gap is only eleven points but that is a lot," said Boonen. "Anyway, now it's the time for mountains and breakaways so other riders are coming up.".
When asked what the difference was between last year and now, Boonen choose to stay tight lipped. "I'm one year older now and a lot has changed, I'm also more mature. Many things happened and who knows me will know what I'm talking about. Anyway, the way you ride a sprint didn't change and today I find my luck back. It was just a matter of time and it happened today," Boonen finished.