Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has said that Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is not one of his priorities for 2011, even though he has never before won Belgium’s season-opening race. After returning from the Tour of Oman, Boonen is set to line up at both Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne this weekend.
“No, it’s not really [an objective],” Boonen told dhnet.be. “In the first years of my career I tried to win it, but it comes a bit early. It’s just a question of timing, although it is surprising that I’ve twice won the day after at Kuurne, but never there.”
Boonen looked in impressive shape in the early part of the Tour of Qatar, winning the opening road stage, and he said that he bears no ill effects from his fall in the neutralised zone on the final day. He has since completed the Tour of Oman and is pleased with his condition.
“My win on the first stage of the Tour of Qatar reassured me,” he said. “I’m at the level I should be at.”
Boonen’s main springtime objectives come, as ever, at the beginning of April. Although he was powerless to stop Fabian Cancellara’s astounding march to victory at the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix last year, Boonen insists that his preparation was more than adequate and his confidence remains intact.
“[I can beat Cancellara] by preparing in exactly the same way and by having the same physical condition,” Boonen said. “In 2009, I was the one who beat him and I didn’t change anything in 2010. I took a blow to my morale during the Tour of Flanders when he dropped me on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, but two or three kilometres later I had accepted the blow and I rode to conserve my second place. I forget my defeats quickly.”
Boonen also gave short shrift to the rumours that surfaced in the wake of Cancellara’s victories, that he had availed of a motor in his bike. “Cancellara was the strongest, that’s all,” Boonen said.
As well as losing out on the cobbles, Boonen endured a second-place finish at Milan-San Remo, but again he was gracious in his praise of the winner.
“It was in 2007 that I left my chance of winning La Primavera pass me by, when I stayed on Petacchi’s wheel but he didn’t have the legs,” he explained. “Last year, I finished second, but I couldn’t do any better. Oscar Freire was untouchable.”
Indeed, Boonen admitted that he no longer has the same speed in the finishing as in the past, although he is hopeful that the flat world championships course in Copenhagen will reward endurance as well as pure sprinting ability.
“I’m not really a sprinter anymore,” he acknowledged. “There are young guys like Cavendish who have really changed the way the cards are dealt. But I’m very motivated by the Worlds in Copenhagen.
“There’s a big difference between a stage of the Tour de France and a world championships that is raced over 260km. After such a long race, there are fewer of us who can win.”