RadioShack’s Dirk Demol has told Cyclingnews that despite Fabian Cancellara’s form, Tom Boonen cannot be written off ahead of the Tour of Flanders. While Cancellara soloed to one his most impressive trademark wins on Friday in E3 Harelbeke, Boonen was left languishing in the fight for minor placing in scenes that were reminiscent of Cancellara’s all-conquering 2010 Classics season.
“I wasn’t really that surprised with how strong Cancellara was,” Demol told Cyclingnews.
“I enjoyed being behind him in the car and seeing how strong he was but I have to be honest, we’ve seen him improving over the last couple of weeks. He was good in Tirreno and third in San Remo, when he was one of the strongest even in the bad weather.”
Boonen crossed the line in seventh place in E3 although he did win the bunch sprint. Coming into the race his form was somewhat of an unknown after he’d abandoned Milan-San Remo and when he was dropped by Cancellara and a number of other rivals he blamed hunger knock. However Boonen has had a less than ideal preparation with illness and surgery on an elbow delaying his training.
“Tom had some problems in December and January and it’s clear that he’s a little bit behind but he wasn’t bad in E3 and he recovered to take the sprint for seventh place. He’s not on the same level he was on last year but to be honest I still think he’s going well.”
Last year the roles were reversed, with Boonen in the form of his life and Cancellara, although competitive, not quite at the same level. The contest was over by the time the pair reached Flanders though with Cancellara crashing out and breaking his collar bone. How Flanders and Roubaix would have played out if Cancellara had stayed upright was an unknown.
And as is always the case in this block of racing, momentum is paramount, both for form and confidence.
“It’s difficult when you’re a bit behind and you need to come on the same level as your opposition,” Demol told Cyclingnews.
“It’s not going to be easy for Tom but you won’t hear me saying that you can count him out. His form is growing and he’s getting better and better. It’s still open and Cancellara is strong but don’t count out how strong Sagan, Boonen or Sky are. The three top favourites for Flanders are still Fabian, Sagan and Boonen.”
In hindsight Boonen’s team served up E3 on a plate for Cancellara, driving the peloton through most of the early sections and softening up the peloton before the RadioShack rider’s vicious attack. Cancellara’s strength and power papered over an average RadioShack team display that had three riders sick before the start line. Stijn Devolder crashed and was caught out at two key points in the race but looked able to support Cancellara with a bit more guile in Flanders.
“I’m confident for Flanders that we will be represented with a strong team,” Demol said when asked if the team were Cancellara’s weakness.
“I think we just need to be careful and pay attention and not be on the defensive because next Sunday we’ll have more responsibility.”
“Quickstep has a strong team, that’s clear and they’ll be really good. I don’t know if they’ll change tactics, that’s unclear.”