Tom Boonen will celebrate his 36th birthday on the eve of this year’s World Road Championships in Qatar but the Belgian rider is not hoping for a special birthday present, saying he would be happy with new underwear or a pair of socks. Boonen also confirmed that even if he wins the world title, he not change his plans to retire after targeting a fifth victory at Paris-Roubaix.
The Etixx-QuickStep rider will lead the Belgian team in the elite men road race on Sunday October 16 alongside Olympic road race gold medallist with Greg van Avermaet.
Boonen has enjoyed a hugely successful 15-year career that also includes three victories at the Tour of Flanders, 112 professional victories and a world title won in a sprint in Madrid in 2005. He is counting down the days to his retirement and will probably only race 30 times before next year’s Paris-Roubaix. But he confirmed he has no plans to race on even he wins the rainbow jersey in Qatar.
Boonen crashed out of the recent Eneco Tour, hurting his neck. However he returned to racing on Sunday at the rain-soaked Tour de l’Eurometropole and finished third in the controversial sprint that saw Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) squeeze Oliver Naesen (IAM) towards the barriers but still given victory. Before the Eneco Tour, Boonen showed he was on form by winning the RideLondon Classic and the Brussels Cycling Classic.
“You cannot turn back time but I have had some solid workouts (since the Eneco Tour). I have almost no pain in my neck. I certainly haven’t become afraid of sprinting,” Boonen said, warning his rivals.
A warning about the heat and echelons in Qatar
Boonen knows the roads of Qatar like his home roads of Flanders. He has won 22 stages and taken four overall victories at the Tour of Qatar held every February. Temperatures are expected to be between 35-40 degrees Celsius for the World Championships, with cross winds also a factor as the race completes a long loop into the desert before the final circuits in Doha.
"I feel good in Qatar, so on the one hand I’m looking forward to it, but on the other hand, I also know the heat and wind will make it a very particular World Championships,” Boonen pointed out.
“They’re predicting extreme conditions, so who can handle it the best is likely to be world champion. I think people have underestimated the weather conditions. You have to take on between ten and twelve litres of liquids, so it's important to be well supplied. If you ride half an hour without a drink, your race is over and you can go home.
“I hope there’s some wind, but not because I can ride well in echelons. If you are in an echelon and you get dropped or are blown out, then it's over. Bad luck could always be a factor too.”
The 2016 World Road Championships begin on Sunday with the team time trial races for men and women.
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