By Jeff Jones
Tom Boonen has been coming under increasing pressure in the last few days to win a stage in the Tour. Not happy with just the maillot jaune, the world champion sprinter has been frustrated in all his attempts to win one of the bunch sprints. Robbie McEwen has three, Jimmy Casper and Oscar Freire one each, and Matthias Kessler also managed to sneak under the sprinters' noses. But the closest Boonen has been able to get is second, and that hasn't made him happy.
Before the start of stage 6 in Lisieux, Boonen wasn't talking to the press, partly because it has been critical of his sprinting tactics. And after the stage finished in Vitré, he also didn't offer any comments. No more excuses, Boonen just has to win. But McEwen, so far, has proved himself to be the fastest, while Boonen has lacked explosivity.
"Tom is really happy with the yellow," team director Wilfried Peeters explained to AD yesterday. "Many teams would love to be in our situation. That Tom doesn't win, is hard. But in fact, we can only lose. Tom couldn't sprint well again today. He was boxed in."
Yesterday, it appeared to be more than that, however. The peloton was in one line, with Quick.Step's Tosatto leading out until 500m to go, before Alessandro Ballan took over for his captain Bennati. Boonen's last man De Jongh was ready, but when Gert Steegmans came from behind with McEwen on his wheel at 400m to go, Boonen wisely switched trains and tried to jump onto McEwen's wheel. The Steegmans TGV proved to be too fast, and when McEwen jumped past the big Belgian with 150m to go, he already had a massive advantage. It looked like Boonen just didn't have the power or the snap to match the two Davitamon riders.
Boonen also rode an aggressive race yesterday, getting into a breakaway after 50 km and working hard for another 25 km, before CSC and Lampre pulled it back. Tour stages in the first week typically aren't ridden like Belgian classics, where it's important to be up front to make the selection. The Tour peloton normally stays together. And if he wasn't the most marked man in the peloton with the world champion's jersey on his back, he certainly is with the yellow jersey! But, that's how Boonen likes to ride, and it has won him plenty of races already, including 17 this season.
One (or two) stage wins will change everything for the charismatic man from Balen, and he will have two more chances before the first mountain stage next Wednesday. At least after Saturday's time trial, he won't have the pressure of the maillot jaune.