ORLÉANS, France (VN) — Tom Boonen reached an impressive milestone Monday with his 100th career win to put him in elite company, but the Belgian superstar wasn’t worried about statistics. After two injury-plagued seasons marked by controversy, Boonen is hitting his stride just in time for the spring classics.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step put four riders into Monday’s 21-rider echelon at the front of a blustery second stage of Paris-Nice, all but assuring Boonen a chance to kick to his fifth win of the 2012 season.
“I am not worried about statistics,” Boonen said of the 100 wins (not counting criteriums or team time trials). “It could be 90 or 100. Not many riders reach that number. I am just glad to be healthy again.”
Boonen just missed a win two weeks ago at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad when he opened up his sprint too soon, allowing Garmin-Barracuda’s Sep Vanmarcke to take the win. Boonen got his revenge Monday, winning the stage and relegating Vanmarcke, who also made the break, into fourth. Nikolas Maes gave Boonen a leadout and “Tommeke” made easy work of José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) and John Degenkolb (Project 1t4i).
“I am happy I came to Paris-Nice instead of Tirreno,” Boonen said. “Today’s win proves I made the right choice. This is a good race to put in some racing miles to be ready for the most important part of my season. I hope to be fresh in time for Milan-San Remo, my first real major goal this year.”
Boonen is hoping to regain his winning ways in the spring classics. Although he won Gent-Wevelgem in 2011, his last major victory came in 2009, when he won Paris-Roubaix for a third time. Boonen’s life on and off the bike has been rocky since then. Knee injuries in 2010 and 2011 kept him off of world championship courses that suited him well and his brushes with the law via cocaine cases in 2008 and 2009 made for embarrassing public distractions that threatened to derail his career.
He says he’s moved on and is enjoying racing more than ever.
“The most important thing right now is that I am healthy and winning races again,” Boonen said. “We’ll see what happens in the classics. I hope to be in the mix again and be at my best. But anything can happen, you can have a crash or get sick at the wrong time, and all your hard work for months just goes down the drain.”
Boonen’s victory was Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s 21st on the 2012 season, already more than double their season-long haul of eight wins in 2011. The arrival of such riders as Levi Leipheimer, Tony Martin and the Velits brothers has brought new energy to the team, but Boonen said the squad is simply hitting all the cylinders this year.
“We already had a strong team last year, but a lot of guys had bad luck,” he said. “This year, everything is falling into place. It’s not like we have some new magic formula. All the pieces were already there. Last year, the time wasn’t right, this year the time is right.”