Over his 15-year career, Tom Boonen has accumulated enough prominent wins to cement his place in cycling's record books, counting four victories at Paris-Roubaix and three at Tour of Flanders among his more than 100 career wins. Yet he is still hungry for more, including a possible second world title in Richmond on Sunday after winning the rainbow in Madrid in 2005.
“I would love to win another Roubaix,” he told Cyclingnews ahead of last Sunday’s World Championship team time trial in Richmond, Virginia.
“That’s the big ambition. That’s the one race that really gets me excited. I still love all the other races, but that has been my dream race ever since I was a kid. I’ve been very successful four times, and winning it a fifth would mean I would be the absolute record holder, so of course that’s my big objective.”
The powerful 34-year-old Belgian with the fast finishing kick will get his shot at Paris-Roubaix next year after signing a one-year contract extension with Etixx-QuickStep. Boonen remains motivated because he loves his job, he said, and that was his biggest reason for extending for another year.
“At first I was thinking about signing a two-year agreement, but I think I’ve reached the point that we want to look at it year by year,” he said. “It’s also better for me I think not to sign already for two years. It’s better now to look step by step.”
Boonen said he considered a variety of factors when making his decision as well as listening to a lot of people who asked how much longer he wanted to continue.
“But right now I just want to do an extra year and do what I do best, and that’s try to keep the team on the rails for the Classics and hopefully have a good winter and start the Classics without any injuries,” he said.
Boonen won his fourth Paris-Roubaix and his third Tour of Flanders in 2012, but since then he’s been unable to pocket any more monuments. In 2013 he developed an infection on an injured elbow in January but returned to racing in time for the Classics. Successive crashes and abandons in Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders forced him to miss Roubaix. Last year he finished 10th in Paris-Roubaix and seventh in Flanders but he missed the Spring Classics this year after suffering a dislocated shoulder in a crash during Paris-Nice.
Boonen obviously feels like he’s got some unfinished business in cycling, but how long he will go on remains a question for which he doesn’t yet have an answer.
“The last three years I have been very unlucky always in the preparation or in the Classics itself,” he said. “I’ve ended up in the hospital the last three years. I haven’t had that much luck, so I would really love to try it myself one more time.”
He told Cyclingnews his decision to quit or go on past next year will ultimately be based on “sensation.”
“If I feel next year everything going well, I have perfect preparation and they drop me everywhere in the Classics, that will be also a deciding factor,” he said. “But if everything goes well, I feel the same way as I do now, I have a good winter and a good season, then I will continue a little bit longer. But I won’t be riding until 40, that’s for sure. One, maximum two I think.”
An aggressive race in Richmond
With the new contract in hand, his long-term career decisions on hold and the team time trial behind him, Boonen can now focus on Sunday’s World Championship road race. The Belgian team is packed with talent, and the parcour in Richmond, with two steep cobbled climbs just before the finish, appears perfectly suited for them.
“I think we find a parcour here that suits us very well, suits the style we ride as well,” he said. “So we don’t want to sit in and control the race until the last lap and wait for a sprint. That’s also an option if other teams want to do it. I will try to wait as long as possible and see what they are up to, but I think with the team we have here we have to race.”
Boonen also said he doesn’t believe the race will come down to a sprint, as many have predicted.
“I think it’s hard enough to really split things up,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to control behind. You don’t have any easy climbs going up where you can take a lot of time back on a breakaway. It’s always nervous, fast, short, explosive work. So guys who will try to control, you lose two guys a lap on these steep climbs, so it’s going to be a very interesting race. A lot of things are possible on this circuit."
“The biggest amount of work is done. Just do one or two more big rides and the some specific work and we’ll be ready.”
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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