After Belgium’s least successful spring campaign since 1945, the great and the good of the Belgian peloton gathered in a conference room in a Novotel near Brussels on Monday – not for a debriefing, but to look forward and discuss their plan of attack for the world championships in Florence in September, where defending champion Philippe Gilbert is expected to lead the team on a demanding circuit.
Last season, national coach Carlo Bomans struck the right balance on the mixed course at Valkenburg as the Belgian team united behind Gilbert’s successful bid to claim the rainbow jersey. He is looking to replicate that cohesion in Tuscany and he called a meeting with Gilbert, Tom Boonen and eight other possible members of the Belgian squad on the day after Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“It was fun – there was a lot of laughter as those guys are all peers,” Bomans told Het Nieuwsblad. “Nobody was obliged to come. There was nothing secret about it. We did the same thing last year – I was just showing them what to expect.”
Joining Boonen and Gilbert to study a video of the Florence parcours were Sep Vanmarcke, Nick Nuyens, Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Dries Devenyns, Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Maxime Monfort (RadioShack Leopard) and Björn Leukemans (Vacansoleil-DCM).
On Wednesday, Bomans was due to travel to view the Florence course himself first hand, but no riders will be with him. Boonen had originally been slated to come on the reconnaissance but the Omega Pharma-QuickStep man ruled himself out as he continues to recover from the injuries he sustained in his crash at the Tour of Flanders.
“Why do we come here? It’s not – as [Patrick] Lefevere says – for a media show, but because it’s interesting to see the course in person,” Bomans said. “It didn’t matter who came, although I admit that I would have liked to have had Boonen there.”
While Bomans acknowledged that Gilbert “on this course is still our number one,” he is keen for Boonen to participate in spite of the difficulty of the Florence Worlds, which includes the tough climb to Fiesole and the sharp ramp up Via Bolognese in the finale.
“He knows that it is difficult, but that was the case in Mendrisio in 2009 too and Tom was still there on the last lap to help put Philippe on Cancellara’s wheel,” Bomans told Het Nieuwsblad. “Tom must decide but if he wants to ride the Worlds then the Vuelta seems a must. I would like Tom Boonen to be there.”
As for Gilbert, Bomans looked to strike a positive note about the world champion’s winless spring, pointing out that his form was better than at the same time last season. The Ardennes classics and the performances of Dan Martin, Carlos Betancur and Sergio Henao, have given the Belgians food for thought, however. “We’ll see those guys again at the world championships,” Bomans said.