Boonen tops Belgian sports polls

Belgian cyclist Tom Boonen has been elected Male Athlete of the Year in Belgium.

Boonen also received most votes in the category of Sport Personality of the Year. This last award is a once-in-a-lifetime recognition and was presented to Boonen in the Casino Kursaal of Oostende, with the creme de la creme of the Belgian sports scene in the audience.

With two fantastic victories in Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders in the spring of this year, two stages in the Tour de France and a super season topped of with a world championships title Boonen was a shoe-in for Male Athlete of the Year. He left Stefan Everts and Sven Nys far behind in the sprint.

But Boonen modestly admitted that he had been quite nervous about the outcome of the public vote for the Sports Personality of the Year. Sven Nys finished a closer second in this race. But the "Victor" had Boonen's name on it for many reasons. In Europe, Tom Boonen has become the Belgian version of English soccer star David Beckham: sexy but cuddly, modest but assertive and interested in fashion. Besides being an extraordinary athlete, Boonen has remained the typical rascal with a cheeky sense of humour which Belgians are so fond of; Boonen comes across as genuine and appears to have managed to hold on to his natural innocence. His girlfriend Lore has captured the public's heart as well and she definitely adds a great touch to Boonen's profile.

"I got really nervous, sitting there in my seat waiting for the verdict," Boonen told the press afterwards. "I haven't had it that bad since April. You know, I expected that it wouldn't be me to get the prize this time."

After receiving so many awards earlier this winter (Vélo d'or, Kristallen fiets, Mendrisio d'Ore, Flandrien, etc.) Boonen seemed particularly happy with the trophy for Sports Personality.

"It was okay for me to expect the awards in cycling, but this one, Sports Personality... it's not up to me to give reasons why I should get it; it's about what you give out, how you present yourself and how people perceive your attitude, what they think about you. It's about so much more than just performing well. This was one of the evenings I really had been nervously anticipating."

Boonen's winter has been very busy; running from one presentation to the other, with many media responsibilities to be fulfilled. "It's over and done with now," he said. "I could have used my time better this winter. My schedule brought things to the limit a few times, real stress man! I have a personal and professional life I can cope with, but all the extra obligations made it extremely hectic. But, I think I did what I had to do."

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