By Gregor Brown in Marina di Bibbona
Quick-Step started its 2007 season this week in Marina DI Bibbona, Italy with a noticeable change; the king of the classics, Tom Boonen, is no longer in his world championship stripes. The rainbow colours have been passed over to Italian teammate Paolo Bettini and so too has some of the pressure.
Boonen, 26 years-old, proved a point in 2006; that there is no such thing as a curse on the world champion. The Belgian started his season by winning immediately in Qatar, barely missed out in Milano-San Remo but came back to score his second Tour de Flanders. Although he did not win a stage or the maillot vert in the Tour de France, he spent time in the coveted maillot jaune.
"I was very happy with the yellow jersey," explained Boonen of his July in France. "At the beginning I wanted a stage [win] more than the jersey. But having the jersey was different than I expected; four days in the yellow, it was something I will remember for the rest of my life."
Tom Boonen led the Belgian team in the world championships in an attempt to defend his 2005 title. He was unsuccessful in keeping the rainbow colours but he reckons the added pressure won't be missed. "[In 2007] I hope to do as good as the last few years. I always say the same at the beginning of the year, and it is always hard. This off season has been better for me, without the [world champion] jersey.
"I think it was good that Paolo won and I am out of the jersey. Maybe there will be less pressure. Now the goal, like always, will be to win races straight away [in the early season - ed.]. This year everyone watched me because they were searching for a curse on the rainbow jersey."
Click here to read the full feature.