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Tom Boonen hopes extra-tough 2011 Vuelta a España paves road to rainbow jersey

2011 Vuelta a España, stage 14, Tom Boonen
Tom Boonen has had an extra-rough ride in this year's Vuelta, with few opportunities for sprinters and a painful groin wound. Photo: Andrew Hood

ASTORGA, Spain (VN) — Tom Boonen (Quick Step) has had one rough Vuelta a España.

While everyone agrees that the 2011 Vuelta is probably the hardest Spanish tour ever, Boonen has gotten an extra dose of suffering — an open wound on his perineum. It makes sitting on the saddle extremely painful, so much so that Boonen rode nearly the entire 47km Salamanca time trial standing on his pedals.

The sore is slowly starting to heal thanks to treatments and cooler temperatures as he rides into the final week of the Vuelta.

For Boonen, who only returned to racing at the Tour of Poland after crashing out of the 2011 Tour with a concussion, getting through the Vuelta is essential for him to have any chance of winning the rainbow jersey a second time.

He missed last year’s worlds at Geelong with a knee injury, so Boonen is doing everything he can to get ready for a world’s course that suits him almost as well as 2005, when he stormed to the rainbow jersey in Madrid.

VeloNews caught up with Boonen before the start of Saturday’s mountain stage to get an update. Here’s what he had to say:

VeloNews: Tom, you’ve had a rough start to the Vuelta, but the goal remains to try to make it to Madrid?

Tom Boonen: Of course, I want to finish the Vuelta, otherwise I would be home already. It’s been a very hard Vuelta.

VN: The Vuelta has been the best preparation for the worlds over the past decade, but is this edition too hard?

TB: We will see in the worlds, eh? We will see who comes out of it stronger and who can recover. For me, it’s not just preparation for the worlds, but I also needed a stage race in my legs for next season. For me, this Vuelta has been good. I am feeling better and better. I have a bad injury on my nuts (laughs), but I am still here.

VN: What exactly is happening?

TB: With the heat, I had a rash there and it didn’t have any possibility to heal so far. It’s just been about suffering. My condition is good, so I am just fighting through the discomfort. (Friday) was a really brutal stage, and I could survive no problem, so that’s a good sign.

VN: The worlds course at Copenhagen is supposed to be harder than Geelong, is that better for you?

TB: It’s a lot of laps. I think it’s not an easy course. Also, the weather can be brutal that time of year in Denmark.

VN: Who starts as team leader for Belgium, you or Gilbert?

TB: I think we will start with the captain as Gilbert. He is the man of the year this season, with the spring classics he’s had. It will be hard to beat him. The only thing we have in common is that we have to get in the last lap, both of us, then we’ll see how it goes from there.

VN: How is your form now compared to how you felt in 2005?

TB: It’s a big difference. The racing has been really hard this year. From the Tour de Suisse to now, all the races have been so hard everywhere. They seem to forget about the sprinters, so it’s hard to get results. Even the last sprint we had in the Vuelta, it wasn’t a real sprint. It was an uphill finish line after a hard stage. It’s been hard to get results for everyone. I would say right now the condition is better in the Vuelta than in 2005. The condition in 2005 came just in time for the worlds. I know now after all this work I’ve done here, it’s two weeks until the worlds. You’d normally have a form peak then. It’s a one-day race — anything can happen.

VN: It seems like the grand tour have something against the sprinters these days; only the Tour had a lot of bunch sprints, but the Vuelta and Giro have been favoring the climbers, what’s going on?

TB: It’s just getting harder. It’s an evolution in cycling. Everywhere you go, it’s getting harder and harder. I don’t see the sense of it. (Friday’s) stage was just stupid. It was maybe one of the hardest stages in the Vuelta and in the end, it doesn’t do anything. Everybody was suffering all day long. There were 40 guys dropped after 5kms, they were lucky to get back on the gruppetto. In the end, you finish with a 40km flat part, and no one does anything in the GC. Nobody does anything. There have been a lot of stages like that. I think it was better like it was before; with seven, eight, nine sprints, two time trials, and three hard stages, like the old formula, then you had more battle.

VN: The Vuelta has time bonuses, but no stages for the sprinters.

TB: The time bonuses here are good for the fast GC guys. I hope they go back to the way it was.

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