By Brecht Decaluwé in Roubaix
When Tom Boonen crossed the finish line in the Roubaix velodrome for the second time in his career as a winner, a lot of things must have gone through his mind. Until today, the Belgian had struggled to find the winning legs that brought him the legendary treble of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix and the world championships in 2005. A good 2006 also followed with wins in the Tour de France, another Ronde triumph, not to mention a bunch of semi-classics. But 2007 was a much leaner year for the Quick Step star, as even the Tour de France green jersey and two stage victories did little to hide the fact that he couldn't win one of the sport's big Monuments.
For a rider's entire season to be judged on two races during the most important week of the Spring Classics may seem a little unfair, and Boonen's reaction at the finish line was clearly one of relief. "Phew!" he said, "I can go on again for a little while." The 27 year-old had been made to endure weeks of doubting in the media, but answered his critics in style today.
"It's fantastic to win a race under a lot of pressure," he said, "but the only person who didn't need to have doubts was me. Doubts aren't good and today I wasn't in doubt, otherwise you can't win here. Criticism? If I win there is criticism, but also if I don't win, so in the end I shouldn't care about that. I didn't announce [that I would win], I only said that I would be good, but then the question is if that will be good enough to win."
He then explained that he was fed up with the mind games that have been played out in the Belgian press. "By saying that I want to be good in this week I'm not picking up extra pressure, because that pressure would be there anyway. The problem is that if I say that I want to be good, it turns out to be 'Boonen wants to put on a show' in the paper. My words are easily taken as the truth, or more easily changed to make them true," he stated.
"I shouldn't be saying that I will not try to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. And if I try - I repeat - try to win them, then that turns into 'Boonen puts all his money on two races', or 'Boonen is a pompous twit'. Going for those two races is just the normal run of affairs, but now everything is considered good again," he said with a sardonic smile on his face. "I won, so ... good.
"These are the two races that I really like," he continued, "and I've never been hiding that. It takes a lot of energy as you have to live and train for it for so long. I've been thinking about these races for almost three months now. I went through all possible scenarios and that's what you think about during the race."
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