Omega Pharma-Quickstep's Tom Boonen will bring his star power to the Amgen Tour of California this week, but having taken an extended break from competition following his spectacular Classics victories including the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, he is not expecting to make a big splash on US soil. Instead, he is using the race to tune up for his main goals: the Olympic Games and World Championships.
"The main ambition is to have a good week here and get racing again. Hopefully Levi [Leipheimer] will be feeling better," Boonen told Cyclingnews. "But for most of the guys it's just getting started again - either they had a break after the Classics or have been altitude training. It's a nice week, it's hard, but it's a good week to get started again and go back to Europe with some good shape."
The four weeks since his record fourth Paris-Roubaix win have not been all fun and relaxation, Boonen explained that he moved from Monaco to Belgium in April and spent the past few weeks moving boxes and unpacking. "The Sunday night after Roubaix was the first night I spent at my house in Belgium," he said.
"It's a lot of work, but if you don't do it yourself it doesn't feel like home. The last time I moved I didn't do anything, I just came back from a race and everything was there, but I never had a real sensation of being at home. Now it's different, we are really at home."
Now settled in back home, Boonen returns to the Amgen Tour of California for the first time since 2009. While he only has one stage win here in his palmares, the 2008 sprint in the state capital of Sacramento, he isn't sure when he will have a chance to go for a win next week. He is happy, however, to be back on the west coast where the skies are blue and the rolling green hills are basking in sunshine.
"Changing the date to May made [the race] more interesting for us. Now it's not so important if you have a few days of jet lag. When it was in February it was too close to the Classics, and also the weather was really bad in February. Now it's easier for them to get a lot of good European riders here."
The team is "95 per cent certain" that Leipheimer will try to earn his fourth Amgen Tour of California title, but if he cannot race or is not at his best, then they will look to Peter Velits for the general classification. The team also will field Bert Grabsch, Dries Devenyns, Stijn Vandenbergh, Gerald Ciolek and Frantisek Rabon.
Boonen said the team will "see day by day" for the sprints. "If I feel good I will try to win a stage also."
Following the Amgen Tour, Boonen will put in a few weeks of training before the Tour de Suisse, and then assess his progress and decide then whether or not he will compete in the Tour de France, which ends just six days before the men's road race in the London Olympic Games.
"I think for the Olympic Games it's better for me to not do the Tour, but we are looking at that right now," he said. On the London road race course, Boonen opined, "It's harder than everyone expected, but it's a parcours that really suits me. Especially I think the nine laps we do, if it had been shorter (return trip) it would have been even harder. It's a hard circuit, but you have time to recover after the climb. Normally if I'm really good I won't get dropped on that climb, but it's harder than everybody expects. There won't be any fast guys left."
While Boonen has had little luck in the past four years against pure sprinters like Mark Cavendish, who is also targeting the Olympics, he hasn't given up the idea of being a sprinter for the Grand Tours, even if he may give the Tour de France a miss this year. "If you can win sprints in the Classics you can win sprints in the Tour also. I think the main thing about the sprints is you have to have a team. Of course I'm not the fastest guy in the world anymore, but I can still beat the guys."