OVERIJSE, Belgium (VN) — Lars Boom, who in 2008 broke a seven-year streak of Belgian domination of the world cyclocross championships and reclaimed the rainbow jersey for the Netherlands, walked away from ’cross in 2009 so he could focus on a burgeoning career on the road.
The decision disappointed legions of Dutch fans who longed for a return to cyclocross prominence for the Netherlands in the wake of the retirement of legend Richard Groenendaal. But the decision also proved prescient, as Boom claimed overall victory in the Tour of Belgium and a stage victory in the Vuelta a España, making him one of the most successful young Dutch racers of the last decade.
And though Boom returned briefly to defend his Dutch national championship this January, the world of elite cyclocross has missed its occasionally controversial young star, and Boom’s announcement that he would launch a comeback this winter thrilled European fans. The Dutchman started his comeback in a snowy but relatively small race in Luxembourg last weekend, but returned to international competition in Overijse Sunday.
Boom, who was hampered by a flat near the end of the race, may have been disappointed with a seventh-place finish, but showed that he remains a force with which to be reckoned, grabbing the hole shot and spending most of the day racing for a spot on the podium.
“I’m here to entertain myself, no more than that,” Boom told reporters after the race. “So you had better pay attention to the real racers. I don’t count myself (among the top riders) anymore. I’m a road racer and just want to use the ’cross season for some preparation, nothing more than that.”
Boom plans to do five more races before wrapping up the season by defending his Dutch national title, including World Cup races in Kalmthout and Zolder, but said emphatically that he won’t contest the world championships in Sankt Wendel in Germany, despite persistent rumors — or perhaps just hope — among the Belgian press that he would.
“You really won’t see me do the world championships this year because I have a training camp in Spain with the rest of my team,” he said.
And though Boom said he was disappointed to have to settle for seventh in his first big race, he was satisfied that he had done better than expected.
“It was a really nice ’cross and the public has definitely been entertained,” he said. “I was also well received. The others had a difficult ’cross in their legs, not me. I hadn’t expected to compete with the top (racers). I thought it would be more difficult. Without that flat tire I might have finished on the podium, but I don’t think I could have threatened Nys.”
Despite Boom’s modesty, Belgian champion Nys told VeloNews that the Dutchman’s return indeed constituted a threat.
“Lars is a real champion,” he said, “and a champion like Lars could win in his first race. He’s trained a lot, you can see that, and of course, it’s difficult to beat him.”
But Nys also pointed out that Boom’s new goal, a win in a cobbled classic like the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix, would be a real test for a man who won’t even turn 25 until the end of this month.
“He’s chosen the road,” said Nys, “and that’s his own decision. I think it’s a big champion who can win the big classics in the beginning of the road season, so we’ll see what happens.”
Boom will return to action next weekend with a pair of races — Scheldecross in Antwerp on Saturday, and Sunday’s fifth round of the UCI World Cup in Kalmthout.
Editor’s note: Dan Seaton started writing about cyclocross when he moved from New Hampshire to Belgium in 2008. He started covering European cyclocross for VeloNews in October 2010. Dan has a Ph.D. in physics and spends most of his time working as mission scientist for a spaceborne solar telescope at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. He somehow finds time to race as an amateur ‘crosser in Belgium during the fall and winter. Dan and his wife, Mindi, live in Brussels.