News Feature, April 3, 2009
Tom Boonen has a chance to do something even the great Eddy Merckx never managed, win a third Ronde van Vlaanderen. If he goes on to take victory in his home race, he will become only the fifth man to triple in the Belgian Classic.
There is one certain rider who could stand in his way, Italian Filippo Pozzato of team Katusha. Pozzato beat Boonen to take the E3 Prijs semi-classic on Saturday and on Tuesday, he won the first stage of the Driedaagse De Panne, which featured many of the Ronde's punishing climbs.
Boonen – a two-time Paris-Roubaix winner, multiple Tour de France stage winner and 2005 World Champion – met with the press Thursday in De Panne, Belgium, to talk about the course, the historical significance of the Tour of Flanders and 'Pippo' Pozzato.
"He has a lot of talent, but he never takes the initiative to decide a race." - Boonen on top adversary, Pozzato.
Question: What is your training programme like until Sunday?
Tom Boonen: It's mostly getting rest, getting the massages, eating and sleeping. The big efforts are over; I will only go out for a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday.
Q: It will be sunny on Sunday, but is it true what people say, that the rain brings out the best riders?
TB: "With the rain it is easier to have an epic final in a big Classic. But with the sun the form comes along easier. Two years ago it was nice and we came to the Muur with something like 50 riders. It was still a hard race."
Q: Will you be 100 percent on Sunday?
TB: "It is impossible to say that now, but it is the moment to try and get a good result. My form is coming along. I trained well and I wasn't sick, so I can't complain."
Q: You've done pretty well lately, but missed out on victory in E3 Prijs. Given the choice, is there something you would have done differently?
TB: "I already had some good results. [Saturday] wasn't a problem of mentality. I did some great races, riding 120 kilometres in the front group. I was on the attack a lot.
"I needed to check how things are going. Now I am certain that I have the possibility to do a great final in the Ronde. Of course the others want to do that too. We will have to see who is there in the end."
Q: When does the stress of the course start? At the Molenberg?
TB: "Yes, it starts already there, but really the race commences with the Kwaremont. It's already 1.5 kilometres and then a [narrow] descent immediately follows. That's the first important moment of the race.
"After that something happens every five minutes. You have to make sure it stays together and on all the little hills you have to just look out, look out, look out."
(See Cyclingnews' guide to Ronde's 2008 hellingen.)
Q: What's your favourite part of the course?
TB: "The place where I get away! I don't really have a favourite part, but after the Koppenberg it gets really tricky, so maybe the parts right after the Koppenberg."
Pozzato "never attacks"
Q: Is your old teammate Filippo Pozzato is the top favourite for Sunday?
TB: "'Pippo' seems to have had the best preparation period of his career. He is in the form of his life and he has raced very well lately – I know as I was often there. Hopefully on Sunday we can duel in the end, that would be the most honest way to decide it.
"He has a lot of talent, but he never takes the initiative to decide a race. He is always there, but he never attacks. I think that's how it's possible to beat him. He always has the legs, but not the head to say, 'OK, this is the moment.'
"We have to see, maybe he has changed, but I am not sure."
Q: What will be the tactic to win against riders like Pozzato and Heinrich Haussler?
TB: "I will need my team to make the race really hard. In the end, it will always be the same riders who are going to be there, like Pozzato, Haussler, [Juan Antonio] Flecha, [Nick] Nuyens. And there may be others who have improved over last year."
Q: And if it comes to a sprint against Pozzato or Haussler?
TB: "It's suspenseful, this year, isn't it? I don't have to be afraid, but in the E3 Prijs I had a tactical mistake by being in the front in the end.
"Haussler was in a 30-kilometre break in the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but that's not the same as riding in the final of the Ronde."
Q: What do you think about Silence-Lotto, will they be a factor?
TB: "Absolutely. Leif Hoste was there this week and also Greg van Avermaet has shown that he is improving."
Q: You have 2008 winner Stijn Devolder and Sylvain Chavanel as teammates. If needed, would you work for them?
TB: "Yes, but it depends on the situation. We just have to control the race and then see who is still there. Then we can say that Boonen goes with this guy, Chavanel with that guy and Devolder with this guy. It boils down to the communication in the race.
"[Chavanel] doesn't have the experience but he certainly has the legs and the form to be there."
Q: The Ronde without Paolo Bettini: is that one less companion or one less opponent?
TB: "I am already content with having three strong teammates, Chavanel, [Kevin] Van Impe and Devolder. It is better to start the race with four riders who have the possibility to win. Bettini didn't race the Ronde in the last few years, but given the choice it would be better to have him on the team."
Comparisons to the past
Q: Many people compare you to your 2005 year, what's your thought on that?
TB: "I don't really think about that. The result has to come now. The form is there and my head is good. Later we can look at the results and then we can talk about if it was a good season or not.
"I had the form last year to win the Ronde. But Devolder was away, so I was just covering moves. I also was good in Paris-Roubaix [which he won - ed.]"
Q: Do you have the same desire to win the race as you did five years ago?
TB: "I don't have more or less desire, it's just a different feeling now."
Q: What does the race make so special, the parcours or the ambience?
TB: "Well, the parcours and the ambience... I am a Flandrian... When I was younger we did similar, smaller races, 'Mini-Flanders' so to speak. Also when I was racing as an amateur, we raced the Ronde for Beloften [U23 category]."
Q: If you have to choose between the Ronde and the Worlds, what would it be?
TB: "The Worlds."