After his seventh place in the Tour of Flanders and a calm Scheldeprijs today, there is only one more race left in the Spring Classics for Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step), and one chance to salvage his Spring Classics season. His campaign was briefly marred by personal problems, which caused him to miss Milan-San Remo. Although he won the semi-classic Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, he realizes this is not enough for a rider of his level. A strong ride on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix can still turn things around.
Boonen looked back one more time on his much-discussed performance in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. On the Oude Kwaremont the pre-race favourite failed to follow the move from Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). The Swiss rider surged forward towards the lead group together with Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin) and eventually grabbed the win. Boonen ended up riding in the next group and won the sprint for seventh place.
"The last 30 or 40 minutes I just wasn't physically fit enough," Boonen said before the start of the Scheldeprijs in Antwerp on Wednesday morning. "I just missed that little bit extra that the guys who finished in front of me had. Seventh was a fair result. Before the race you try to motivate yourself, but it was the first time I did a race of more than six hours. Usually I did that in San Remo, but now I missed out on a week.
"I was very happy afterwards. I have very good sensations until the last 30 or 40 minutes. This week will give me maybe that little bit extra. Plus, Roubaix is a different race. Flanders was really hard this year. It'll be easier to save more energy for the final in Roubaix."
Boonen said he felt that a lack of communication was to blame for his inability to stay with Cancellara when he attacked on the Oude Kwaremont in the Tour of Flanders. Just before then, Boonen lost his position when their small group was caught back by a larger chasing group.
"When I look back at it the problem for me was that the chasing group came back with us just before the Kwaremont. We didn't know anything because our radios were broken. Just before that right hand corner there were ten guys left, ten guys right. They passed me so I was in thirtieth position. [...] Cannondale [sacrificed] their last guy and he went full speed. I had to go in the wind past twenty guys, head back to the front. Then Fabian just went. I was a little bit on my limit. Then I just kept my rhythm and got back to the second chasing group. It wasn't bad at all."
On Friday the team will recon the Paris-Roubaix cobbles from the forest of Wallers-Arenberg and they'll ride until Orchies. When asked whether he expected to be better in Paris-Roubaix than he was in the Tour of Flanders, the 33-year-old Belgian was confident. "Absolutely. I'm already good but there's always room for improvement. There's always a bit of pain, even after two days. That's why it's good to race here so that things get going again and spin the legs. It's the easiest way to stay in the rhythm. The only thing we can do now is let time do its work. Tomorrow we're back in the hotel with the team and on Friday there's the reconnaissance. It's easier to maintain that rhythm with race. It'll be alright."
But first there was the Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. Most pave specialists use the race to give their legs a spin and build back up towards Paris-Roubaix. At the Omega Pharma – Quick-Step team, nobody seemed up for the job as the team didn't have their main sprinter Mark Cavendish. In the end, Alessandro Petacchi was the man for the sprint. He finished just off the podium in Schoten. After the race Boonen regretted that the team lacked Cavendish.
"Nobody wanted to do the sprint, not even Vandenbergh," a joking Boonen said. "Out of anger I would've done it. It's not because it's [a sprint] against Kittel but about taking responsibility. I stopped sprinting here since they changed the date. After Paris-Roubaix I want to take the risk, but I'm not risking it three days ahead of Paris-Roubaix. I went through enough this year. I'm going well now so I think it was more wise to put all my money on Sunday instead of risking a crash here. I'm being judged on Paris-Roubaix anyway, whether I win here or not."
Boonen was happy he came unscathed out of the race which has often been marred by crashes in the sprint. This time there were no reported crashes.
"If you're here in one piece then it's been a good day. Without Cavendish it was hard. The team was built around him. Then it could go both ways. That's the risk. Alessandro felt good but not super. I think Kittel would always have won the sprint. There was enough time but Kittel was much stronger."
Boonen worked hard in the final kilometres, bringing the gap to the leaders back to one minute at nearly ten kilometres from the finish. It was a close call, according to Boonen. "I did the work in the build-up to the sprint. I told Petacchi we had to start chasing because we would not get them back. They hadn't seen it and acted surprised. I told them there was another minute added to their lead. I went flat out and we caught them back at about two kilometres. It was right in time. It's not because we didn't want to get them back, it was because they rode fast."