An interview with Tom Boonen, April 11, 2005
Winning an incredible triple this spring season with E3 Prijs Harelbeke, Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, Tom Boonen (Quick.Step) is currently revealing his real talents as a true Flandrian puncher. Last season, the cycling world hailed the 24 year-old as the next big sprinter alongside Alessandro Petacchi, but the Belgian has proven that his talent is much more versatile after the first part of this season. In a post-race press conference after the "Hell of the North", a rather satisfied Boonen explained the decisive moments of the race from his point of view.
"I think it was best for me to get rid of Michaelsen and Bäckstedt," he said. "The race is perfectly controllable with two guys, but with four guys attacking you it's hard. I knew I had to do everything I could at Carrefour de l'Arbre, and it was perfect: Flecha did the first effort, Michaelsen got dropped, afterwards Bäckstedt was 15 metres behind. My director sportif told me 'Bäckstedt is at 20 metres' and that's when I went à bloc. I knew if I got rid of him, Flecha and Hincapie would ride for sure. These guys were working for the podium all day. But I was a little bit afraid, I wasn't feeling so super anymore. I just kept up the pace at 45, 47 km/h for everybody to feel tired. Nobody wanted to attack, and in the finale I was super concentrated and I did a good sprint I think."
With this memorable victory achieved, Boonen will now take some time off to be able to concentrate on the next goals of his racing calendar. "I'm going on holidays now," he replied when asked where he would find the motivation for the rest of the season after achieving the rare Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix double. "That's how I'll find the motivation back for the Tour. But it's not only that [meaning the double] - I won Harelbeke, I won Flanders and Roubaix and those are the three races I wanted to win most. But I'm confident for the rest of the season, I have one objective left, or two: The Green jersey at the Tour and then maybe the World Championships."
Looking back, Boonen was also asked which of the two top classics was hardest. "They're both difficult," he said. "Today was also very hard, especially in that breakaway at 80 km from the finish line. Everybody had to do big efforts; we lost Van Bon and Wesemann, and of course Peter [Van Petegem] crashed so some big opponents were gone. Then I took control over the race, but it wasn't easier or more difficult than in Flanders. Roubaix is easy when you're strong and you have good luck, then you'll be in front for sure. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen is different racing."
At 24 years of age, Boonen is already showing excellent race intelligence and coolness, especially in the finales. "I'm always calm," he explained. "But the main thing was: In the finale with Hincapie and Flecha, I knew I was the calmest of us three, because Hincapie hasn't won a big race yet; Flecha won...When you've already won the Tour of Flanders, you just keep your calm, because you're more relaxed at the start already. It makes it a little bit easier. In the finale, I'm concentrated, but I'm not nervous."
With this new momentum in his racing career, one could predict a bright classics future for Boonen, especially since he is still so young. Would the Belgian be motivated for Paris-Roubaix year after year now, especially in the light of someone like Andrea Tafi, who has said goodbye to pro cycling after 14 years?
"Every year, yes," Boonen replied with a smile, "But not for the next 14 years! We'll see how it ends, but I don't think I will be racing for another 14 years. Guys like Tafi and Johan [Museeuw] got the team leadership at a later age than I did. I don't think it's possible to keep that stable for 14 years. Anyway, I don't expect it to, so I'll see how it goes for the next 5, 6, 7 years. But I don't think I'll still be racing when I'm 37..."
Still, Boonen does realize the advantages of experience. "I suffered the most in my second year, when I got 24th [in 2003 - ed.]. The first race is different to when you're getting good position 80 km before the finish, and it's your 20th race. Today was also tough, but you think about it in a different way."