Even if he is a great sprinter in his own right, Tom Boonen is not hoping for a fast finish at the Olympic road race at the Mall this Saturday. Instead, the Belgian team will be aiming to race aggressively against the event's favourite, world champion and British team leader Mark Cavendish, as well as his sprinting peers André Greipel or Peter Sagan.
"Boonen has his chances in a bunch sprint, but it will be hard against guys like Cavendish and Sagan," the Belgian team coach Carlo Bomans told Sporza, a view shared by the second man in the Belgian squad, Philippe Gilbert.
"We'll certainly not look for a sprint. Even Boonen says he'll find it difficult against guys like Cavendish, Sagan and Greipel," Gilbert agreed.
Despite the widespread belief that the 250km road race will end in a bunch sprint, the Belgian team is not without hope that its strategy will bear fruit. "We're not at the start going for silver or bronze," stated Boonen. "That's really the very last option. We have a strong and experienced squad. We have to try and ride to the finish with a small group.
"With four finishers in the team [Boonen, Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet and Jürgen Roelandts, as well as Stijn Vandenbergh - ed.], that is entirely possible. We're not going to avoid taking risks. I'm the team leader, but that doesn't mean that I'm the only one that can wrap it up in the finish. I can also be a diversion."
Bomans insisted on the necessity for a larger group to be up the road after the final ascent of Box Hill, as there are still 40 kilometres of flat terrain to go to the finish beyond that point - enough time for a Great Britain-led bunch to reel in any escapists if they are not significant in number.
"Van Avermaet and Gilbert have to be in the break. But if they want to remain out of the reach of the peloton after the last climb of Box Hill, then they have to be in a group of 15 riders, not five. With less than five, it'll not work, there is too much room to get organised in the peloton in these last 40km."
The Belgian coach also counted on the support of other nations, who don't have a top sprinter, either. "It'll be difficult to wait for a bunch sprint, too. Many teams will prefer to avoid a bunch sprint. They will make the race hard to stand a chance of scoring against the top sprinters," he added.
With one day yet to go to speculate on the how the race will unfold, everything seems to suggest that the event will be fast-ridden, which should make the nine ascents of the 2.5km Box Hill climb more challenging for the pure sprinters in the pack. Moreover, the race will be held without race radios, which should make it less controllable.
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