Tom Boonen refused to get emotional before his farewell Paris-Roubaix, insisting during his final press conference that Sunday will be just another race, at least until the finish line, and a race where he will give everything to try to win.
Boonen faced questions from the media at the Quick-Step factory in the heart of Western Flanders. Casually dressed in a team-issue sweater, he sat on an old leather sofa, with Quick-Step Flooring around him to create an intimate scene for his final words.
Anyone expecting tears from Boonen will have a long wait. He is focused on his racing and in full control of the final days and hours of his professional career.
"I made a decision to retire and I'm still standing by my decision. My goal was to be at good level to finish and I am good right now. I got what I wanted," Boonen said.
"There's no point in being all emotional about it now. As a rider you start your career and end it. My day is coming soon."
Asked if there was a risk he could lose perhaps focus before Sunday due to all the attention surrounding his farewell, Boonen's reply was blunt.
"No," he said convincingly.
"I won't lose my focus. I'm as focused as last year but my form is better than last year. Then I was in a race against time to be in shape. This time I've had more time to prepare myself and everything has gone well. All the things are there but we need things to go right on the day."
Boonen even deflected questions about how he will feel on Monday morning, when he wakes up as a retired rider, with the fatigue of the race in his muscles, perhaps after celebrating a record fifth victory at Paris-Roubaix or just marking his retirement with a party with his team, family and friends.
"For sure I'm going to have the biggest hangover ever. A big one. I'm always sad when I have a hangover," he joked.
In truth, Boonen seems a little weary of all the attention and all the questions. He simply wants to race Paris-Roubaix – his favourite of the season – just he has done for the last 15 years.
"I feel pretty good, so I'm happy that were almost there. I think we have a strong team and a chance of success, so lets hope for the best. It'll only be different after the finish line this year," he said.
Boonen knows that his rivals will not just let him ride away and win his final Paris-Roubaix. There will be no gifts on the cobbles.
"It's not a special race, eh…" he warned in his Flemish accent.
"It's a normal Paris-Roubaix for all the other riders. It only stops for me it at the finish in Roubaix. I'm not expecting the peloton to think about it being my last race. They'll race me even harder than before. They know I'm the guy they have to follow, it's been like that for the last 10 years.
"I just hope we get a hard race. The weather forecasts look good. It'll be a fast race because dry roads always give a fast, hard race. The speed will be high all day long."
Boonen's rivals can expect Quick-Step Floors to again use their strength in depth to produce a hard race, creating a selective race earlier than is often seen. Boonen did not reveal the team's tactics but is likely to hit out alone on a late sector pave in pursuit of a perfect solo victory. He is also ready for a select group of riders to form and then fight for victory in a sprint on the banks of the Roubaix velodrome.
"Maybe I can make a difference on one of the cobbled sectors…" he hinted at one point but keeping his cards close to his chest.
Boonen is not afraid of riders refusing to work with him, in the hope they can take advantage of Boonen's last ever chance to win Paris-Roubaix.
"It's not that the race is going to be different to the other years," he warned, sending a clear message to his rivals.
"There are guys who have never won and so if they don't close the gap, they'll never win. It's the same as ever. I'm in the situation like in previous races. You can't focus your race on one rider, it usually doesn't work out for anyone.
"I don't expect the race to be different to other years. It's up to us to create situations that we get right, otherwise you lose the race. And I want to win it."
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