By Les Clarke
Mixing it up in the sprints is nothing compared to dealing with the demand when you're 24 years old, leading the points competition at the Tour de France and rated as one of the best riders in the world today...oh, and you have a brigade of adoring female fans around the world.
As reported last week, Tom Boonen is definitely hot, both on and off the bike.
His hairstyle has been imitated by cyclists the world over, and although he isn't as recognisable to a general worldwide audience as such, he's certainly a man in demand when it comes to the current crop of pro cyclists - possibly more than any other rider bar Lance Armstrong. During the Tour's first rest day, he took to the golf course for an interview with Belgian TV, which also featured Credit Agricole's Christophe Moreau and fellow Belgian Kevin Hulsmans among its guests.
The young Belgian was a cycling sensation before 2005; this year, however, he's become a phenomenon only exceeded by Armstrong in terms of marketability and recognition. He has the results, like Armstrong, to back up his popularity - wins in Paris Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, plus a super start to the Tour de France with wins in stages two and three. His growing list of endorsement deals and sponsorships is a result of his stellar racing performances and his good looks, and as Armstrong has increased the profile of cycling in the mainstream, Boonen may be able to do likewise for more than just his on-bike brilliance.
In terms of the Tour, Boonen currently has a five point lead over Thor Hushovd in the points competition, and although he's carrying a few bruises and a bit of pain, he's set to continue his battle for the green all the way to Paris. And with this, his 2005 may get even better - how sweet it is!