Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) pushed aside any doubts that he wouldn’t be able to win this Sunday’s Tour of Flanders. The Belgian has had a tough time of it recently, but said that while other riders have looked better in recent weeks as long he is more than able to take the top step of the podium.
"I don’t think that being a favourite is important," he said at his team’s pre-race press conference on Friday. "If I take the start then I’m always capable of winning. Maybe I don’t take the start as a grand favourite on Sunday. Maybe it’s a good thing or maybe it’s a bad thing, we will see. If I can take the start then I’m always able to win the race there."
This year’s route has seen more alterations to the route, something Boonen wasn’t too pleased about, saying that Classics courses should remain just that and stay the same. Boonen wasn’t able to ride the previous incarnation of the course, after he crashed out 19 kilometres into the race. The organisers were heavily criticised for nullifying some of the action and the new route was introduced to liven things up once again. However, Boonen believes that it could make for a very closed race.
"It won’t make the race harder, as the climbs are more focussed on the final now," he explained. "It will be difficult to start racing earlier. Sometimes putting less climbs in the final makes it more open and gives the race more possibilities. I think it will be hard to start racing 50km to the finish line, because there are so many difficult climbs there."
After last year’s face-off between Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan, this weekend’s race sees a number of contenders who could take title, including two riders from his own team. Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar are both potential winners in their own right and will bolster the team’s chances of success and have both been on good form.
Undoubtedly Omega Pharma-QuickStep has the strongest overall line-up and even Cancellara’s Trek team have a couple of cards to play. In contrast Sagan is the team’s sole leader and is likely to be by himself when it comes to the crunch on Sunday. However, Boonen doesn’t think that this will reduce the Slovakian’s chances of victory.
"I don’t think that Peter will be affected by not having many teammates. He just has to follow. He’s good enough to do that, he doesn’t really need teammates. For him, tactics, he just has to stay with Fabian and me and we’ll see what happens. For him the tactics aren’t so hard, he just has to stay with the guys at the front and try to be a passenger."
Boonen was reluctant to talk about his rivals even when talk turned to the likes of Sagan and Cancellara. The Belgian is not concerned with the riders he will face on Sunday. "Winning the race is important and that’s what’s playing in my mind. They way I want to win the race is not important. I’m just trying to win the race. Against who or in which way, I don’t really care."
A fourth win for Boonen this weekend would put him ahead of the likes of Johan Museeuw and Fiorenzo Magni in the history books as the undisputed Flanders champion. Boonen won his first two titles back in 2005 and ’06, but had to wait six more years for his third. Now 33, it’s had to imagine that he can wait that long to break the record. Despite the dwindling chances to add another to his palmarès, Boonen is taking things in his stride.
"I don’t see it as pressure, it’s kind of relaxing, knowing that I’ve won it a few times. I’ve done every done everything to be at the level that I am at now. Due to circumstances, the last two weeks have been a little bit hard. If I don’t win then it won’t be my fault. I’ve done everything I can to be on this level. I think we will have a good battle and I know the race pretty well and I have a few cards to play."