Tom Boonen will make his long-anticipated return to racing at the Circuit Franco-Belge stage race, which starts on Thursday. The Belgian Quick Step rider has been out of action since June with a knee ligament injury.
“I’m looking forward to being back in the peloton again,” Boonen told RTBF. “I’ve been able to train well in the last two weeks, with long and intense sessions in Monaco. My knee is good, my morale is good and I’m very motivated.”
Boonen’s knee problems began in the spring and were compounded by crashes at the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse that forced him out of the Tour de France. He underwent knee surgery on July 15 but his initial hopes of returning in time to ride the world championships were dashed as the scale of the rehabilitation process became apparent. Ultimately, Boonen was only able recommence full training at the beginning of September.
“Obviously the pace during a race is different from what it is during training, so the four stages of Circuit Franco-Belge will be important most of all to get acclimated with competitions again,” he explained. “I hope I’ll be able to race smoothly, with no accidents involved.”
Boonen is just one of a number of big names on show at the four-day Circuit Franco-Belge, which gets under way in Templeuve, France on Thursday and finishes on Belgian roads in Tournai on Sunday.
Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) has his first competitive outing since his controversial exclusion from the Vuelta a España for late night drinking, while fellow Tour de France stars Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) will also be present.
Robbie McEwen (Katusha) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas-Doimo), who were each disappointed to miss out on Worlds selection, will be to the fore in the sprints, while Riccardo Riccò (Vacansoleil) will have a rare opportunity to show off his new team’s colours in competitive action before the end of the season.
Teams for Circuit Franco Belge, September 30 - October 3:
AG2R, Française des Jeux, Garmin, Liquigas-Doimo, Omega Pharma, Quick Step, Rabobank, Katusha, Milram, RadioShack, Saxo Bank, Landbouwkrediet, Topsport, BBox, Cofidis, Saur-Sojasun, Acqua&Sapone, Skil, Vacansoleil, BMC, Lotto-Bodysol, Veranda Willems, Roubaix, Big Mat Auber, Belgium Espoirs.