Tom Boonen is going to the start of the Baloise Belgium Tour "with ambition and want to achieve the highest possible result." The Etixx-QuickStep rider, who won the race in 2005, departed the Giro d’Italia last week, and received permission to start in Belgium on Wednesday.
"My expectations are high," Boonen said, according to the Belga news service. "I want to put down a solid result here. It was part of the planning to retire early in the Giro and then start here."
He has his eye on Wednesday’s prologue, a 6.85-kilometre stage in Bornem, and says that Thursday's stage to Knokke "is not unknown to me. Actually all the stages are good for me, although the last stage is perhaps a little too difficult." That final stage may be one for his teammate Tony Martin, Boonen said. "Our team’s breadth is its strength. The last day will be all climbing and we will see who can survive."
The race introduces the "Golden Kilometer" in the final four stages, which is three intermediate sprints within one kilometer, 25 kilometres from the finish. Bonus seconds will be awarded for each sprint, with the possibility of deciding the race’s final outcome. Boonen said he found the innovation "a bit of an oddity. I don’t think a lot of time will be gathered. The escape will probably be there. It will probably be the teams from the second tier that will drive there. Moreover, you can’t do three sprints within one kilometer with a group. It will contribute a bit to the tension of the race, but really crucial? No, it is not."
The 34-year-old had a number of top ten placings the early part of the year, including third at the Omloop het Nieuwsblad. However, a dislocated shoulder suffered in a crash at Paris-Nice held him out of the Spring Classics. He returned to racing at the Tour of Turkey last month before starting the Giro d'Italia for the first time. He is still looking for his first season victory.
"My condition is good," he said though. Boonen abandoned the Giro before the serious climbing started, saying "I had nothing more to look for in the last week in Italy."