Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) begins his build-up to the world championships road race when he returns to competitive action at the Eneco Tour on Monday. He hasn’t raced since he finished third at the Belgian championships in June, having opted to forgo the Tour de France in order to focus on the Worlds.
"I'm looking forward to starting a race again because I haven't raced competitively since the national championships," Boonen told Sporza. "But mostly, I need to be ready for the Vuelta [a España] and the world championships.
The week-long Eneco Tour gets underway in Teneuzen in the Netherlands on Monday, and Boonen will look to pick up form as the race crosses into Belgium. In particular, Friday's stage over the Muur and Bosberg to Geraardsbergen ought to be to Boonen's liking.
"I'll try to go for stage wins at the Eneco Tour," he said. "It's important to get back to a good feeling quickly. I'll see how I feel after the first two or three days."
In the longer term, however, Boonen's sights are trained on Ponferrada and September 28, where he hopes to be among the leaders of the Belgian team for the Worlds. With Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet already showing distinct signs of form, national coach Carlo Bomans has plenty of options, and unlike last year, Belgium looks set to qualify for a full complement of nine riders this time around.
"Leadership is not something you should ask for, it should come naturally with your results," Boonen said. "But I am especially motivated because I missed out on two world championships in recent years [Geelong and Copenhagen in 2010 and 2011 – ed.] where I had a real chance."
The Ponferrada course seems suited to a wider range of riders than last year’s demanding circuit in Florence, with many national teams provisionally building their plans around puncheurs and fast finishers. Boonen, of course, was the winner the last time the Worlds were held in Spain, sprinting to victory ahead of Alejandro Valverde in Madrid in 2005.
"Many types of riders can be good on the course this year," Boonen said. "It will be about surviving and waiting for the final lap, as has been the case in recent years. For me, it's ideal if I can get to the finish in a select group, but I must be strong enough."