With two days to go before the 95th Tour of Flanders, Belgium's supreme Classic, Quick Step's Tom Boonen seems to have digested Fabian Cancellara's ultra-strong showing at the E3 Prijs and recovered confidence. While the Leopard Trek leader and defending champion of the event is undoubtedly the greatest favourite for the Ronde this Sunday, Boonen took last Sunday's Gent-Wevelgem and remained in his homeland this week, closely reconnoitering the parcours of 'Vlaanderen's mooiste'.
Last year, Cancellara had dropped the Belgian on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, even though Boonen "had never ridden up the climb as fast as that day," according to Bjorn Leukemans of Vacansoleil, who told L'Equipe that Boonen came to that conclusion after timing his ascent off a YouTube replay.
This year, the Belgian is determined not to let 'Spartacus' ride away once again. "This time, I will try to hang onto his wheel without grasping his saddle," he joked. "And if ever we get to the finish together, it wouldn't be a problem as he's never beaten me in a sprint. Anyhow, I feel reassured now, and I'm not afraid anymore."
In fact, Boonen's confidence did not come from his Wevelgem win, but rather from this week's training rides. "I wasn't at my best in Wevelgem," he admitted. "Even if I won, I wasn't good. But [during his recon ride on Wednesday], I had very good sensations, which I hadn't had since my crash last year in the Tour de Suisse."
Now, the two-time victor of the Ronde hopes for typically Belgian weather conditions, with "wind and rain", which look likely according to the weather forecast. But he doesn't believe that other favourites will form an alliance with him against Cancellara. "Everyone talks about it, but in the Classics this never happens. Everyone plays their own game," added Boonen, who nevertheless feared another scenario that could cost both himself and Cancallara.
"My only fear is that a four or five-man group gets away, with really good rouleurs in it. Behind, we'd be stuck with Cancellara. No-one will then want to chase," provided other Quick Step and Leopard Trek riders are present in the escape.