Boom back in action ahead of the Tour of Flanders

Astana rider races Three Days of De Panne after last week’s crashes

Crashes have been the story of the cobbled classics campaign to date, and though Lars Boom (Astana) has been beset by two heavy falls of his own, the Dutchman could count his blessings that he was able to report for duty at the Three Days of De Panne on Tuesday and at least remains in the running for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.

Boom crashed in the finale of Dwars door Vlaanderen, just as he was in the process of bridging across to the winning break, and again early on at E3 Harelbeke, thus ruling him out of Gent-Wevelgem.

Fabian Cancellara, of course, has been ruled out for the remainder of the spring following his crash at E3 Harelbeke, joining Tom Boonen on the sidelines for the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix, whereas Boom escaped with largely superficial injuries. Others, such as his fellow countryman Sebastian Langeveld, are doubtful for the weekend, and in that light, Boom was happy to place his own travails in context in De Panne on Tuesday morning.

“The crash was hard and my elbow and hip were a little bruised and it’s not perfect yet,” Boom told Cyclingnews. “That’s why I stopped on Friday because I crashed again on Haaghoek with Cancellara and [John] Degenkolb. For me, I’m happy that I didn’t break anything. The feeling is getting better the last few days and I’m happy I could rest on Sunday with Wevelgem. It’s good to be here now to race again and to train for next Sunday.”

Every pedal stroke seems to count in the 10-day lead-in to the Tour of Flanders, and Boom is only present at De Panne this week by way of compensation for his absence from Gent-Wevelgem and his truncated E3 Harelbeke. He was optimistic, however, that his brief lay-off over the weekend had not unduly affected his prospects.

“I hope not. My condition is still good and that’s why I’m riding here,” Boom said. “I hope to have two or three good days of racing here – normally three – and I want to show myself of course.”

As per tradition, the opening stage of the Three Days of De Panne brought the peloton from the North Sea coast and into the Flemish Ardennes, tackling 13 bergs, including the Leberg, Berendries and Eikenmolen on the 201-kilometre run to Zottegem. Boom came through the day unscathed, finishing safely in the first peloton, 34 seconds down on stage winner Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

The opening kilometres of the stage were neutralised after concerns were raised about the high winds that had buffeted Flanders in the early morning, though mercifully they abated as the day progressed and there was no repeat of the extreme conditions that blighted Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday. Boom sat out the race, but he was concerned by the spectacle he had seen on television.

“I think I saw an interview on Sporza with the organiser of the race and he was smiling about the race and the situation and I think that was not good. It was not nice to see,” Boom said. “It’s not a thing for me to say because I wasn’t there and didn’t race it, but if at some point it’s too dangerous, the riders who are there have to say it, and the organiser is also responsible for that.”

Astana licence in doubt

As Boom prepares for the two biggest Sundays of his season, the future of his Astana squad – which he joined from Belkin in the off-season – is still in doubt, with the UCI Licence Commission currently deliberating on whether or not to withdraw its WorldTour registration due to concerns over the team’s anti-doping record.

On Monday, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported that the Licence Commission had already decreed that Astana would be stripped of its WorldTour status and relegated to Continental level, though the UCI subsequently denied that any decision has yet been made.

Ruminations over Astana’s status have been ongoing since November, following a spate of positive tests on the Kazakhstani outfit’s WorldTour and Continental team last Autumn, but Boom insisted that the affair has not been a distraction.

“For me personally, I don’t think about it,” he said. “On Friday, some journalists asked me about it after the race in Harelbeke, and at first I asked them: ‘What are you talking about?’ And they had to explain: ‘We’re asking you about the licence.’

“It’s true, I really don’t think about it. I’m just busy with the next few weeks and for me that’s really important. I just want to show myself for Astana and for the team.”

Whatever the Licence Commission – and, perhaps, the Court of Arbitration for Sport – decide, the matter will not be resolved before the end of Boom’s classics campaign. Even before Boonen and Cancellara’s injuries, there was an expectation that this spring could mark a generational change. In their absence, and despite his own crashes last week, Boom is aware of the opportunity that lies before him.

“I think for sure an outsider’s going to win,” he said. “It’s a pity that those guys aren’t there but that’s also racing, of course.”

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