Cycling legend Eddy Merckx has voiced his concern over whether Tom Boonen can come back to the form that saw him win a trio of Paris-Roubaix titles in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Merckx, who is now a consultant at the Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad, has been a long time admirer of Boonen but the rider’s last major Classics win came two years ago.
“I don’t think he’s the rider he once was,” Merckx said, pointing to the fact that Boonen is no longer a major contender in bunch sprints.
“Last year he had some problems with his hand, and he’s had knee problems, too. He’s not a young rider anymore,” Merckx told Cyclingnews.
“For him it’s also a question of motivation. If he can be motivated then he can perhaps come back in the Classics like Flanders and Roubaix but it will be very difficult for him to beat the sprinters these days.”
According to Merckx, Boonen’s chances of winning a major spring Classic depend on his form at the start of the season.
“I hope he can still win races like Roubaix and Flanders. Everything depends on the start of the season and how he starts - although last year he won Gent-Wevelgem and then wasn’t so good in Flanders or Roubaix.”
Merckx, who attended the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team presentation in Antwerp last week, also gave his opinion on the team’s strength in depth. Historically they have been built around the Classics but 2012 will see a slight change with the likes of Levi Leipheimer and Tony Martin drafted in to bolster the team’s stage racing and time trial skills.
Although both recruits will be expected to bring in success, Merckx has tipped Martin to shine to the extent of competing for a possible podium place at the Tour de France.
“With Leipheimer and Martin they have options but it’s not going to be easy to beat the likes of Contador, the Schlecks or Cadel Evans. Martin is still very young, he’s a very strong rider and there’s a lot of time trialing in the Tour de France. He can perhaps improve in the mountains and although he can’t win the Tour de France he could make the podium, “ Merckx said.