Belgium will host two decisive stages of the Tour de France this year, but the home crowds won’t be watching their two superstars in the race.
Neither Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) nor Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) will be riding the Tour this year. BMC announced earlier this week Gilbert is recovering from an injury, while Etixx boss Patrick Lefevere confirmed the Tour is not part of Boonen’s plans.
“No Tour for Tom,” Lefevere told VeloNews. “He wants to go to Baku [European Games], the Belgian championships, then prepare for the worlds.”
Having both of Belgium’s biggest stars out of the Tour is a big blow for local fans and media, especially since stage 3, which ends atop the Mur de Huy, is ideal for Gilbert, and stage 4, across seven sectors of cobbles, would be perfect for Boonen.
Gilbert, however, will be out with what the team described as a small fracture to his postero-lateral tibia head, most likely caused by his crash at Flèche Wallonne (which ends atop the Mur de Huy).
Gilbert last raced in the Tour in 2013, but this year, BMC is bringing a team packed with riders to back up Tejay van Garderen, who recently rode to second at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and Gilbert’s injury pushed him out of contention. Following two stage victories at the Giro d’Italia, Gilbert will likely reload for the world championships, but remains undecided on whether or not he will race the Vuelta a España.
Boonen, meanwhile, has not raced the Tour since 2011. His heavy crash at Paris-Nice took him out of the spring classics, and with his return at the Presidential Tour of Turkey in April, there was some speculation he would race the Tour this year.
Boonen’s clearly on good form, with a stage win and the points jersey at the Tour of Belgium and victory at the Rund um Koln after racing two weeks at the Giro.
Lefevere, however, said Etixx is bringing a mixed squad to the Tour, with sprinter Mark Cavendish, world champion Michal Kwiatkowski, Rigoberto Urán, and time trial favorite Tony Martin. The worlds will be Boonen’s major goal for the second half of the season.
“We will wait to see how the Vuelta is looking. With 11 uphill finishes in the Vuelta, it’s not ideal for the worlds preparation,” Lefevere said. “Maybe he could race in Colorado and Canada. We will see.”
That doesn’t mean Belgium will be without major riders to rally around in the Tour. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC), Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Johan Van Summeren (Ag2r La Mondiale), Jens Keukeleire (Orica-GreenEdge), and Jesper Stuyven and Stijn Devolder (Trek Factory Racing) could all be lining up in Utrecht on July 4.