Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) may have appeared to rein in his sprinting ambitions in the last number of years, but the Belgian believes that he can make an impact in bunch finishes again now that his recovery from injury is complete.
Speaking at the launch of his revamped team in Vilvoorde on Friday, Boonen insisted that his injury woes are now behind him, and revealed that he had hoped to attract Bernhard Eisel to the revamped Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad following the collapse of HTC-Highroad. The Austrian ultimately followed his leader Mark Cavendish to Sky.
“For the sprints, I still believe it,” Boonen told reporters after the lights had gone up on the presentation. “Now we’re is back on the track, we have a good train and a good quality of riders in the team.”
Boonen’s two victories in 2011 both came in bunch sprints, at the Tour of Qatar and Gent-Wevelgem. With his wounded knee now back to full strength, the man from Mol is looking forward to testing himself in the sprints, even if he admitted that his lead-out train was still short of a conductor.
“We’re only missing one guy. We should have a guy like Tosatto or De Jongh who we had before, a guy with experience who can really show these young guys how to do it,” Boonen said. “I was trying to get Bernie Eisel in the team but he didn’t go. That would have been perfect.”
The former world champion also hinted at problems with his equipment in recent years, and 2012 sees Patrick Lefevere’s team returned to riding Specialized bikes after two years on Eddy Merckx. “The material is back on track, we have really good bikes now, so it will be a lot easier than it was last year,” Boonen said.
Boonen has not won a stage at the Tour de France since 2007, of course, and while injury and suspension have limited his appearances and performance since then, the sprinting landscape has altered radically in the meantime with the emergence of Mark Cavendish. He acknowledged that beating the world champion when he is on form is nigh on impossible, but he warned that it might take time for Cavendish and Sky to repeat the kind of lead-out he enjoyed at Highroad.
“I can’t beat him when he’s at his best, but when Cavendish is doing a perfect sprint with a perfect lead-out, it’s almost impossible to beat him,” Boonen said. “But that’s the same for every sprinter – if everything goes perfect, it’s not that hard, it’s just getting there is what’s hard.
“And getting the team to make it as easy for you as possible, that’s what’s hard, and that’s where all the work goes. I think Mark will experience that it’s not a thing you just buy or go into. He’s at Sky and he has the quality, but it’s still going to take time to get everything the way it was like at Highroad. It’s the same for everyone.”