Belgian takes aim at first Omloop Het Nieuwsblad victory
Omega Pharma-QuickStep manager Patrick Lefevere is hopeful that the marginal gains made by Tom Boonen in his travel arrangements in recent weeks can all add up to a significant difference at Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, the one major Belgian race still missing from his palmarès.
After completing the Tour of Oman last Sunday, for instance, Boonen opted to book a taxi to Muscat airport at 4am the following morning rather than take the shuttle bus that departed the hotel at 2am. Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad reported the story under the tongue-in-cheek headline “Boonen wins Omloop in bed?” but noted that he had gained two hours of rest on Lars Boom and his other rivals for the win.
Indeed, Boonen has looked to make little gains throughout an early season programme that saw him complete 19 race days in Argentina, Qatar and Oman. The benefits of racing in the sun can often be tempered by the time lost to travelling, but Lefevere explained how Boonen looked to counteract that problem.
“He had good memories of his experience at the Tour de San Luis in 2013 and so he wanted to return there,” Lefevere told La Dernière Heure. “The negative side to that event is the journey, which is very tiring because as well as the main flight from Europe to Argentina, there are still various local connections that bring the travel time up to almost 30 hours.”
The solution? “For the return, I decided to charter a private plane for the internal flight so as to give my riders a better chance to recover,” Lefevere said. “Sometimes these little details are the ones that, in the end, make a big difference.”
Boonen himself has also bought in to the idea, literally as well as figuratively. “He’s paid for an upgrade to first class for himself on certain long flights and has sometimes delayed his return from trips to benefit from a better sleep,” Lefevere said.
Unlike their counterparts at Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-QuickStep opted not to organise a reconnaissance of the Het Nieuwsblad on their return from Oman, preferring instead to allow their riders recuperate ahead of the Opening Weekend. “The fatigue generated by these trips is undeniable,” Lefevere said. “That’s why we preferred not to have a collective recon ahead of Nieuwsblad. On returning from the Tour of Oman, Tom’s priority was recovery.”
While in 2013, Europe shivered through frigid temperatures for much of the spring – Het Nieuwsblad was run off in near freezing conditions and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was cancelled due to snow – the transition to racing in Belgium after weeks in the sun ought not to be as abrupt this time around.
“The Belgian winter was quite mild this year and so the change in temperature won’t be as violent for riders who up to now have been in the sun,” Lefevere said.
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