Tom Boonen has ridden the Tour of Flanders 13 times for a return of three wins and a second place. The Etixx-Quick Step rider has been a regular animator at the cobbled monument winning the race in 2005, in 2006 as the world champion and again in 2013. Boonen won't be racing the 2015 edition of the race with his injuries from a crash at Paris-Nice ruling him out of Flanders although Marc Coucke, the owner of the Etixx company, revealed that Boonen has given himself a 1% chance of starting Paris-Rouabix on Sunday week.
Cyclingnews spoke to Boonen at the team's media day earlier in the season about what makes Flanders so special for the Belgian who has never finished lower than 25th at the race.
"It all takes part in this mythical place, small climbs, cobblestones," Boonen responded. "The people really get into it. There is like 1.5-2 million people watching the race on site so it's a special, special race. For the riders it’s a lot of chaos, a lot of catastrophe, crashes and trying to get to in one piece to the final and just hope you have enough juice left to finish off the race.
The pre-race atmosphere of Flanders on the start line in Bruges is always a special occasion, particularly as it falls on Easter Sunday, although for the riders its also a time to remain calm and focused as Boonen explained.
"You're trying to focus and trying not see it, to stay in that cool you're in," he said of the atmosphere at the sign on. "It's almost impossible to do that. As soon as you start from the bus and on you’re bike its ok. Getting away from the bus is always hard with so many people pushing you and wishing you the best, but once you get away with the road to the sign in area, its ok and you can enjoy it a little bit."
Asked what his memories are of his first experience at the race, Boonen's face lit up, explaining that "it was 2002 and at that point when you’re young you can still ride to the podium and no one knows you. It’s a big difference. I can still remember nearly every kilometre and all the action I did and the end when I got 24. It was an unbelievable experience to finish that race."
And which is Boonen's favourite win of his three?
"The first one because nothing compares to your first time and I was still young and finished solo. It was everything together."
Watch the video below to hear from from Boonen on what makes Flanders so special and click here to subscribe to the Cyclingnews video channel