Quick Step's Tom Boonen says the entry into the peloton of new professional squads such as Team Sky has served to increase his motivation - and satisfaction – for winning.
The Belgian's season will once again orbit around this year's cobbled Classics, but he has already secured a strong start with number of confidence-boosting victories over Classics rivals like Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo TestTeam) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky).
"[The new teams] only make it more interesting," Boonen told Sporza's Sportweekend. "I get a lot of motivation from having these men to beat. It used to be only two or three top guys, but now you have more. It is fun to race against those squads. And if I win, it gives me more satisfaction."
Boonen admitted that this year's Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix will be prioritised above all else this season. The Quick Step captain stands to equal records in both events, with a third Flanders title and fourth Roubaix triumph within his reach.
"If I can win the Tour of Flanders win again, I would stand on a par with Johan Museeuw, who also won it three times. That would please me," said Boonen, who would join Belgians Museeuw, Achiel Buysse, Eric Leman and Italian Fiorenzo Magni on the list of three-time winners.
Boonen also paid homage to four-time Paris-Roubaix winner Roger De Vlaeminck, whose record he would emulate with victory on April 11. "That's not motivation, but it would be an honour. He is Monsieur Paris-Roubaix."
Before his rendezvous in Flanders (April 4) and Roubaix, Boonen will tackle Milan-Sanremo for the eighth time in his career. Despite near misses in the past (fourth in 2006, third in 2007), he said a maiden win at Italian Classic would continue to play second fiddle to his beloved cobbles.
Despite his nonchalant attitude to success at Sanremo, Boonen admitted that it could play into his favour. "I'm not overly concerned about [Sanremo]. Maybe that's an advantage. I will not disturb the neighbours if I do not win there," he said. "Milan-Sanremo is a very difficult race in which luck also comes into play."
Boonen also explained his recent decision to move back to Monaco, where he lived for several years before returning to his home town of Mol in his native Flanders in 2008. The decision of Belgium's top sports stars – such as Boonen and tennis player Justin Henin – to live outside Belgium in tax havens such as Monaco is a hugely divisive issue in their home country.
Financial benefits aside, Boonen's return to the municipality was also motivated by a desire to re-focus and re-build after a 2009 season beset by problems off the bike.
"I live near 35 top riders. If I train with them, I'll get better," he said. "Every top rider looks for somewhere warmer to train in the winter. I also thought about spending a few months training in Spain, but Monaco is more of a home; I knew the area here. This is an advantage, otherwise I wouldn't have [moved back here]."