Tom Boonen got his rainbow week off to the best possible start when his Omega Pharma-QuickStep squad took victory in the inaugural elite men's team time trial at the road world championships in Valkenburg on Sunday, but the Belgian maintained that his motivation will not have been tempered ahead of next weekend's road race.
Just like in 2005, Boonen has now won the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and a world title in the same season, but there were no rainbow jerseys on offer for the team time trial winners on Sunday. Perhaps with that in mind, the 31-year-old gently dismissed the notion that his startling 2012 haul - which also includes Gent-Wevelgem, E3 Harelbeke, the Belgian championship and Paris-Brussels - already constitutes the best season of his career.
"It's a good season, maybe in the top three in my career but every season is different," said Boonen matter-of-factly. "I had a few good wins in the spring, I was national champion and now I have a good last part of the season but next Sunday is a different race but it doesn't matter what you've won before. You take the start like everyone else and try to win the race."
The tactical minutiae of how Boonen and his national team co-leader Philippe Gilbert decide to dovetail their efforts will doubtless dominate the column inches in Belgium in the coming week, but on Sunday evening in Valkenburg, he was happy to focus on paying tribute to the efforts of his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates in what was a demanding team time trial.
On a rolling 53.2km course that included the climbs of Lange Raarberg, Bergseweg and the Cauberg, Omega Pharma-QuickStep dosed their effort to perfection to hold off the spirited BMC challenge by just three seconds. At the end of a season that has seen the squad positively transfigured after a lacklustre 2011 campaign, Boonen described a change of mentality that had permeated the set-up in relation to time trialling.
"Time trialling is not a Belgian thing you know," Boonen said wryly. "We wanted to put some efforts in it. It's always nice when you win Classics and it puts you a little bit at ease for the rest of the season but it's not bad to have some different goals too, beyond always trying to go well in the classics."
Such was the strength of Omega Pharma-Quick Step's sextet - Boonen, Tony Martin, Sylvain Chavanel, Peter Velits, Niki Terpstra and Kristof Vandewalle - that all six riders survived the final haul up the Cauberg and reached the finish line together. Boonen labelled Martin as a "machine", but noted that Niki Terpstra's demands for specific time trialling equipment had also played an important part.
"This was one of those victories I never expected to have - first of all, because the race didn't exist," Boonen said, grinning. "In any case, we didn't have the team for it [team time trialling] in the last few years. But last year, we started thinking about it and we started working on it and look at us now. There's been a change of mentality going on and I'm happy to be part of this team. It was a real team effort, not only from the riders but from everyone."
Before leaving the press centre with his teammates, Boonen was asked to place the emotions of this collective victory in context amid the garland of individual wins he has stitched together during his career, and his response was succinct.
"It's the same feeling, eh? It's happy," Boonen said. "Happy is happy."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.