By Shane Stokes in Granada
Tom Boonen has had a spectacular year, taking victories such as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, winning two stages of the Tour de France and also triumphing in events such as the Tour of Belgium, where he was first overall and took two stages. Stage wins also came a-calling in Paris-Nice (two), the Tour de Qatar (two) and the Tour of Picardie, as well as a victory in the E3 Prijs. The talented Belgian crashed heavily in the Tour de France while leading the points classification, injuring his knee, and had he not been forced to pull out, was many people's tip to wear the green jersey all the way to Paris.
Other, less-hungry riders would be easing back on the pedals now. But Boonen wants more. He's at the Vuelta to build form for what he hopes will be a winning campaign in the world championships in Madrid next month. Before then, a stage win or two would go down well with the Quick.Step rider.
"For me, the most important thing about this race is to work hard and do a lot of kilometres," he told journalists at the team's pre-race training camp on Friday. "I have to stay relaxed, I don't have to take any risks but that doesn't mean that I won't be mixing it up in the sprints. If I am there and there is a sprint, I will be competing in it...that's for sure.
"Next Sunday there is a second category climb 13 kilometres from the finish. I know it, two years ago in the Vuelta we did the same climb. We also did it twice in the Ruta del Sol. If I am really good, I can stay with the bunch there and go for the sprint. But I don't know how I am going, as yet."
Boonen has some good memories of the race, not least as it was here where he confirmed he had the legs to contest big gallops. "I did the Vuelta in 2003," he recollects. "For a lot of people it was the first time they saw Tom Boonen as a sprinter. Actually it was quite a funny story, because Aurelien Clerc was actually the team sprinter. However, because he was out of shape, I started sprinting for the first time in the Tour of Holland a couple of weeks before. There, I had two second places. In the Vuelta, I finished second behind Zabel and won a bunch sprint for fourth, so I knew that I would be a good sprinter one day. If Clerc had been in good shape and had been sprinting in the Vuelta, it may have taken a bit longer. But, sooner or later, we would have found out that Tom Boonen is a good sprinter."
Cyclingnews will have a full interview with Tom Boonen shortly