Six months after Belgian cycling legend Tom Boonen hung up his wheels following Paris-Roubaix, he was back in the spotlight to present a new book about his career, entitled 'Jaren van Bewondering' (Years of Admiration).
VTM journalist Merijn Casteleyn set out in 2016 to interview some riders about Boonen for a retrospective on his career, but the project soon ballooned. According to Het Laatste Nieuws, Casteleyn said writing a book was not the plan at the outset.
"The interviews lasted longer than planned, the list of riders grew. I did not stick to a specific number, but just wrote down names. Ten were 15. Fifteen became 30. Thirty was soon 50. And counting," Casteleyn said, and the original idea was scrapped in favour of a book.
Casteleyn interviewed teammates, riders from other teams, Belgians and foreigners, sprinters and Classics men from the current peloton and those who have retired.
"That's when we realized how great the admiration of all those colleagues was for Tom, the man and the rider," Casteleyn said.
The many big names among those interviewed include Peter Sagan, Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde, Greg Van Avermaet, Paolo Bettini, Oscar Freire, Johan Museeuw and Marcel Kittel.
The project then turned to the man himself, with Castelyne interviewing Boonen, who responded to each of the statements from 50 riders, in alphabetical order – riders with whom he shared his 15-year career.
"This book gives a perfect picture of an entire generation," Boonen said. "It's a totally different approach than all the other books that have been written about me and published. Not every one of my competitors had only good things to say about me. However, most of them did. I admit: that makes me really happy. Because it is a hard world, a hard fight. We are always competing with each other. If you can still create such an excellent relationship with each other, then I can only be happy with it."
Boonen said he still rides his bike for fitness a few times a week and only weighs two kilograms more than when he raced. He also said he "is in advanced negotiations with [Quick-Step Floors] to do something in the future."
However, the Belgian is still not interested in getting back into the sport full time. "I am now in the phase of filtering everything away and sticking with the things I really want to do. A more relaxed life is an important condition. I knew a heavy and intense existence. In the future, it should all be a little less."
'Jaren van Bewondering' is published by Borgerhoff and Lamberigts.