Quick-Step Floors team manager Patrick Lefevere jokingly suggested he may need medical assistance and an ambulance if Tom Boonen ends his career on a perfect high by winning a record fifth Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
The successful careers of the two Belgians are closely intertwined. Boonen has spent the past 14 seasons with Lefevere's teams, winning a string of Classics and other races thanks to strong support from the various incarnations of Lefevere's set-up. One would arguably not exist without the other, and both would no doubt be poorer without their combined efforts.
Boonen never had any serious intentions of ending his career with a different team, and Lefevere is hoping that the end of the Boonen chapter of his team will help mark the start of the next chapter with a new team leader and new sponsors.
"Paris-Roubaix marks the closing of the door on 15 years of happiness, success and big wins, but also failure, sadness and a lot of shared emotions," Lefevere told Cyclingnews after letting his emotions slip while introducing Boonen's final press conference.
"I wouldn't describe Tom as a kind of son for me because you have only one father, one son and they're your blood and you're together for life," Lefevere said. "But of course my relationship with Tom is special. A lot of riders come and go in some teams; they change their team colours like I change my pants. I don't like that. I love to have riders and staff that I can trust to do their job. It is one of the most important values of the team and is one of the most important values that Tom has shown to the team. These days are a lot like the moment when Johan Museeuw retired. He joined my team in 1993 and left in 2004. Tom joined us in 2003 and is finally ending his career in 2017."
Lefevere was initially against Boonen retiring after the spring Classics, fearing he would be distracted and lacking in motivation. Boonen has proved him wrong by being close to his very best and being focused on racing, despite his career ending on Sunday.
The Quick-Step Floors team for Paris-Roubaix is built around Boonen, with Philippe Gilbert rested for the Ardennes Classics and Zdenek Stybar, Nikki Terpstra and Matteo Trentin all loyal to the cause of helping Boonen try to make history and win Paris-Roubaix for an unequalled fifth time - on the very last day of his professional career.
"I'm 62, but I still like to dream and of course my big dream is that Tom wins and goes down in the history of cycling. I don't remember anyone going out at the top like he could do on Sunday," Lefevere said.
"With the shape he's in, Tom can win Paris-Roubaix. In his 13 participations, he's won it four times and been on the podium a total of seven times. Of course everyone will race against him, but it's always been like that. If he's riding as he always does and bad luck leaves him alone, then I think he can do a lot things. And if he doesn't win then maybe someone else from our team will win.
"If Boonen wins Paris-Roubaix they'll probably have to call an ambulance for me, I'd then ruin Tom's farewell party. I'm joking of course. I'm healthy and will just be very happy if he wins. However, I really don't know how I'll react. It's going to be a unique feeling because nobody has ever retired like this.
"To be honest I was scared that Tom wouldn't be competitive this spring. I don't like champions going out of the back door. I think they have to go out of the front door and in style. Tom has made sure that he is going to do that whatever the result on Sunday."
Boonen joked that he will probably wake up with a huge hangover on Monday morning after a long night of celebrations, whatever the result in Paris-Roubaix. Lefevere expects to have an equally sore head and will no doubt have to pay for much of the champagne and drinks that flow after the race.
A new cycle of success for Lefevere's team
Boonen will begin a new chapter in his life as a retired rider, while Lefevere and his Quick-Step Floors team will have to continue without their road captain and hope for more success during the rest of the season from Marcel Kittle, Fernando Gaviria, Dan Martin, Julian Alaphilippe and the rest of the boys in blue and white.
It will be an especially busy and nervous few months for Lefevere as he tries to secure new sponsorship for the team post-Boonen. He has plenty to offer potential sponsors but insists that a major backer has yet to be found. Team owner Zdenek Bakala has promised to support the team, but Lefevere knows he needs a multinational company to help cover the close to 20 million Euro budget that keeps his set-up amongst the super teams of the WorldTour.
Lefevere secured sponsorship from the Belgian arm of the European Lidl supermarket chain and fell back on the support of long-term backer Quick-Step this year. However, he is in a race against time to find a new title sponsor. If no deal is imminent before June 30, he has promised he will let his riders go.
"It's a challenge because it's the first time in my career that all the team's title sponsor end in the same year. It's something I've wanted. Either I'll be forced to retire because I can't have a team or we'll start all over again and have a great future," he told Cyclingnews.
"Lots of people have labelled us a team that is only competitive until Paris-Roubaix, but we've changed the team in recent years. We win from the Dubai Tour in February to the Il Lombardia in October.
"With Tom retiring, we want to create a new cycle of success, and our great wins speak for themselves. We've recently finished on the podium in Catalunya. We performed in each of the three Grand Tours too. We also have one of the youngest teams in the peloton and our average will be even lower when Tom retires. That's a good sign for the future.
"We've got riders from 13 countries and so we're very international. We're looking for new sponsors from anywhere in the world, so if anyone wants to be part of the best team in the world, they're welcome. They should give me a call and we can do a deal."
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