Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep) may be 35 in less than a week’s time, but the Belgian cycling star says his motivation to continue has been boosted by a strong end of season and that his overall condition remains as good as 2012 - his best ever year “in terms of being consistently successful”.
After a difficult start to 2015 when he crashed out injured in Paris-Nice, ending his Classics campaign even before the bulk of it had begun, last weekend Boonen won the Sparkassen Munsterland Giro, an Hors Categorie one-day race in Germany, and on Thursday he took second on the opening stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
In other years Boonen has raced as late as Paris-Tours and Putte Kapellen, Belgium’s last one-day race of the season. But the last time he won so late in the year (and indeed the only time he has won a race in October before in his career) was a stage of the Circuit Franco-Belge back in 2009.
“I’m not entirely happy with this year, because I had to miss out on the Classics,” Boonen told Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure. “Failure in the Classics means a failed year, even if I win some races.
“But I’m finishing my season in good shape, and in some ways I wish 2015 wasn’t ending so soon, even if I’m very keen to build towards the next.”
Boonen says that “compared to 2012, which was my most consistently successful season, I haven’t lost anything either mentally or physically.” That year, he won the top four cobbled Classics in a row, from Harelbeke through to Paris-Roubaix, and after winning a stage of San Luis in January and the Tour of Qatar in February was still winning top events like Paris-Brussels in September.
“Everybody asked me about whether I would retire after the crash, so that forced me to think about it,” he told La Derniere Heure. “But it’s not time yet. We’ve done tests, I’m not slower than before, and I’ve got stronger, I’ve got a faster acceleration, but I take fewer risks than when I was 22 or 23.”
The objective, he says, “is to have a Classics season with no injuries of one kind or another. Since 2012, that’s not been the case.”
Whilst the Belgian has re-signed with Etixx-QuickStep for another year, he says he expects he will still be racing in 2017, too, with age having given him a much broader perspective on the sport. The arrival of Lidl as a sponsor for next season is, he says, the kind of boost to his team and the sport he “wouldn’t have paid attention to when I was a younger pro, but now I realise is very important”.
“For the first ten years of my life, I was never very interested in that. I was a rider, full stop. But from when I was 30 onwards, I grew more in touch that kind of reality and on top of that, in 2011 we had a very difficult season [financially,] with a reduced budget. So if an economic giant like Lidl comes in, then it’s very good news for our team and for cycling in general.”