At the press conference in the Unilin flooring headquarters in Wielsbeke, Boonen played down the high expectations and ruled out his participation for the Ronde and Paris-Roubaix, aiming to come back instead at the Tour of Turkey in May.
It was rumoured Boonen would start in Paris-Roubaix ever since a tweet from Omega Pharma’s ceo Marc Coucke, who claimed there was still a one percent chance. A seemingly fit Tom Boonen joined the Etixx-QuickStep team on their reconnaissance ride on Wednesday.
“[Coucke] kept saying, 'Is there a one percent chance?' and I told him there was maybe 0.01 percent chance. At this time of the season everything is news,” Boonen said. “Last week I started playing with the idea that I might be able to be competitive in Paris-Roubaix if I could race in De Panne, the Ronde and the Scheldeprijs.
“I asked Ivan [team doctor Vanmol] and straight away he said 'no.' I’m ahead of schedule and on Sunday I did a few accelerations. Then Stybi [Stybar] asked me to join in for the reconnaissance. Also Niki was texting me. I had to train anyway so I joined the boys.
“Riding my bike for three to four hours is no problem, longer is a problem. It hurts when I pull on the handlebars, when I’m hopping on the sidewalks. I’ll probably come back at the Tour of Turkey but that’s not decided yet. I might build up to do [the Tour of] California or the Giro [d’Italia],” Boonen said.
Boonen was also asked if he played with the idea of doing Liège-Bastogne-Liège instead of the cobbled classics.
“Actually yes, but if I would race in Liège then I want to be in top form. To be in top form I had to prepare for the Ardennes in Pais Vasco but climbing is not possible now,” Boonen said.
Clearly Boonen isn’t ruling out a participation in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the future but for the 34-year-old Belgian time seems to be running out. He’s in the last year of his contract with the team from Lefevre and he’s expected to prolong that for at least one more year. When asked if he would be back for the spring classics next year. He nodded and said. “I think so.”
Stybar said the race will go on without his teammate, Boonen, or Trek Factory Racing's Fabian Cancellara, each of whom have win the race three times, but it will be different.
“We have to make sure it’ll be an attractive race for the spectators,” Stybar said. “Personally, I hope that I’m still at least enjoying the splendid form that delivered me the win at the Strade Bianche.”
There’s been some criticism about the lack of cohesion, glue in the Etixx-QuickStep team since Boonen’s shoulder and elbow injury, with sir Bradley Wiggins (team Sky) talking about rabbits in the headlights, stating all riders raced as if they could win.
Stybar felt that wasn’t the case.
“There’s glue. Maybe it looks different from the outside. There was also bad luck. We’re definitely riding as one team,” Stybar said. “There are clear agreements between Niki and myself. We’re two strong leaders and we also have Stijn Vandenbergh and Matteo Trentin, who’s fast. We have a lot of cards to play.”
Terpstra said that despite missing Boonen, Etixx-QuickStep is still a strong team and will race with the same tactics.
Lefevre backed up Terpstra's opinion.
“We lost our leader in Paris-Nice,” Lefevre said. “Everybody thinks it’s easy because we have a lot of good riders, but when another team loses their rider they say it’s a disaster. The guys we have here represented the team very well. We did not win a WorldTour [race] but – and I repeat myself since 20 years – please come back after Liège-Bastogne-Liège [last spring classic] and I’ll say if I’m a happy man or not.
“Two days before the Tour of Flanders we’re probably with the strongest team. At the finish in Gent-Wevelgem there were 39 riders and we had five riders among them, which was the most of all teams,” Lefevre said before summing up the names of the Etixx - Quick-Step line-up for the Tour of Flanders.
Clearly Lefevre was already thinking about the opposition on Sunday, because when arriving at Stijn Vandenbergh he named Stijn Devolder.
Stybar and Terpstra are sharing the leadership of the team but the duo emphasized that they were not the big favourites for the victory on Sunday. Both riders put Geraint Thomas forward, and Terpstra also named Alexander Kristoff.
“He rood a really good time-trial in the 3-days of De Panne-Koksijde but there’s maybe 10 favourites for the victory,” Terpstra said. “Thomas was really strong in Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem.
Matteo Trentin was kept out of the spotlights during the press conference. Nevertheless, both Stybar and Boonen referred to the fast legs from the 25-year-old Italian rider.
“He managed to beat Kristoff in the sprint of E3 Harelbeke last week,” Boonen said about Trentin, who finished third in Harelbeke. Trentin is a winner of two Tour de France stages that ended in a sprint of a reduced group after a demanding stage.
“When analyzing my racing data with Tom Steels we found out that while most riders are getting slower after a tough race, I manage to stay just as fast,” said Trentin, who added that he didn’t mind that Stybar and Terpstra were the team leaders for the Tour of Flanders.
“Stybi and Niki deserve to be the faro, as Italians say. They’re the lighthouse. I’m just below them. I hope for a team victory. We always race as a team. Personally, I’m hoping for a top-10 result. Both the Ronde as Paris-Roubaix suit me well. I like the atmosphere of Flanders and the cobbles of Roubaix. They’re bigger, the racing is more physical.”
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