Tom Boonen showed that he is on form for a promising World Championships after sprinting to victory at the Brussels Cycling Classic on Saturday. Boonen said he has confidence in his sprint, as does the Etixx-QuickStep team management, who showed their faith in the Belgian by giving him the protected sprinter's role in Brussels, over their star sprinter Marcel Kittel.
"I'm very proud of the victory today," Boonen said to the press at the finish line in Brussels."Not only did I beat a few fast guys, but there was also a discussion last night about who was going to do the sprint and I asked for the opportunity to show that I had good condition."
In the team meeting the night before the Brussels Cycling Classic, Boonen asked to be the day's protected sprinter, despite Kittel being on the roster, and they put their trust in Boonen to deliver the victory.
"If you ask that, and you can deliver, then it's always double the reason to be happy," said Boonen, who didn't shy away from the pressure. "If you ask for that pressure to win the race and you lose, that's a different story. That's why I am happier than normal that I could finish it off today."
The 199km race, which Boonen won in 2012, finished with narrow roads, sections of pavé and tight corners but then opened up to a wider boulevard and a slight uphill drag to the finish line.
He thanked his teammates for their perfect lead-out that included Kittel and Matteo Trentin in the final 500 metres, which gave him the launching pad to jump around Arnaud Demare (FDJ), who placed second, and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in third.
Building form for Qatar Worlds
Boonen said he has almost fully recovered the serious crash last fall in Abu Dhabi that ended his 2015 season. The Belgian came down heavily on stage 2 of that race in October and was taken away in an ambulance after hitting his head and losing consciousness, with blood coming from his left ear. He suffered a temporal fracture, and was prevented from flying back home for two weeks.
After a gradual recovery period of about four months, he began racing in February at the Volta Valenciana followed by Volta ao Algarve and then the Spring Classics Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Milan-SanRemo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders and Scheldeprijs. Although he had good performances, it wasn't until Paris-Roubaix in April that he showed signs of his former self, placing second to Mathew Hayman (Orica). He went on to win a stage at Tour de Wallonie and he won the RideLondon Classic.
"After the Classics this year, with Paris-Roubaix, I felt that I was improving again after the injury to my skull last year," Boonen said.
"From that point on I said, 'OK, if I can improve a little bit more and get to my old level again then I will be a very happy guy,' and that injury was only a year ago now."
Boonen, the 2005 world champion, is considered a contender for the World Championships in Doha, Qatar in October, which is thought to be a race for the sprinters and one-day fast men.
Asked how he feels about his prospects ahead of the World Championships, Boonen said, "For the moment, I feel OK. I don't feel super yet but my sprint is there and that is the most important. I've been working hard on my sprint and I'm happy that I had the confidence of my team today."