Talk about versatility. World cyclo cross champion in 2008, Under 23 Time Trial and Cyclo cross Champion in 2007 and now stage winner in his first Grand Tour stage. Lars Boom further underlined his huge potential when he soloed to victory on state 15 of the Vuelta a España.
Pedalling a small gear and leaving his breakaway companions floundering behind him, the 23-year-old took off on the second ascension of the Alto de San Jerónimo and built a considerable lead. He crested the summit well clear of closest chaser David Herrero (Xacobeo Galicia) and then plummeted down into Cordoba, hitting the line 1:36 minutes ahead of Herrero, 1:44 minutes up on Dominik Roels (Milram) and a massive 25:01 minutes ahead of the peloton.
“This win is of course very special,” the tall Dutchman told the media after the finish. “I am very happy. The bus driver recorded the stage and I will watch it tonight…I will realise it more then, I think.”
Boom announced last year that he was changing his emphasis from cyclo-cross to road. At the time he was national champion in cyclo-cross, road race and time trial and, as evidenced by that 2007 Under 23 TT title, had a bright future in the peloton.
He moved from the Rabobank Continental team to the professional squad in advance of the 2009 season and repaid that trust with a victory in the Tour of Belgium at the end of May. Fast forward a couple of months and he’s performing well on an even bigger stage.
“This is my first Grand Tour,” he said. “I felt fairly good in the last couple of weeks. I am tired but not as tired as I expected…I feel good now, I feel okay.
“Today when I saw that the group was clear I immediately started riding a light gear and eating and drinking a lot to make sure that I would be good in the final,” he added. “Things broke up towards the end and four of us got ahead of the others. We had a good pace going on to the climb and I immediately went at full speed to try to drop the other guys. I was with [Serafín] Martinez for a while but got rid of him and was alone. That was a good sign so I went flat out from there and nobody could come back to me.”
Boom’s big role in the race has been to ride in support of team leader Robert Gesink. His compatriot is an excellent second overall heading into the final few stages, lying 31 seconds adrift of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), and Boom said he and the team will do everything they can to get him closer to the maillot oro.
“He is very strong. He makes a good impression to me,” he said of Gesink. “Yesterday he tried a lot to get closer in the general classification to Valverde. I think he will try every day until the end of the race - when it is possible, he will attack.
“Normally I need to support Robert in the final, but today was a good day for a breakaway,” he said. “For the rest of the race I will support him, keeping him at the front when it is needed, and I will also aim for a good time trial on Saturday. But I hope he stays up in the general classification…he is going very well.”
To Switzerland… and beyond
Boom will turn his attention towards the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Road Championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland once the Vuelta ends. Thus far he’s gathered a glittering haul of titles. He is only the second male rider after Radomír Šimunek to win rainbow jerseys in the three ranks of the cyclo-cross discipline, namely junior, under 23 and elite. He’s a former European cyclo-cross champion and has won Dutch national titles on- and off-road, practically at will.
Knowing what it’s like to top the podium at the road worlds, he hoping to follow up that Under 23 crown with an elite gold medal at some point. This year is probably too soon, but it would be foolish to bet against him doing that in the years ahead, or against him riding with distinction next week.
“I am going to do the time trial for sure - I am not sure yet about the road,” he said. “I don’t know if the coach will call but I think so…we will see. I think I would be good for working for Gesink in the road race, and I’d like to see how far I can go.”
Further ahead, he said that everything is centred around road racing. Boom will ride ‘two or three’ cyclo-cross races this winter but that’s likely to be it. He’ll otherwise be preparing for 2010, and some early goals.
“I want to be good in the beginning of the year in the Classics in Belgium,” he explained. “That is why I am riding a big Tour now. As regards in the coming years, I hope to ride more Grand Tours, of course, and also to perform strongly in the Classics. We will see what it will bring for me next year. 260 kilometre racing is new for me, but I want to be good there.”