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ZOTTEGEM, Belgium (VN) — Ask Lars Boom (Astana) about his victory at the Tour de France last summer over the cobblestones, and a big Dutch grin creases across his face.
“That was a great moment, one of the best of my career,” Boom told VeloNews. “Can I repeat that on Paris-Roubaix? I hope so, I hope so, that would be nice!”
The 29-year-old Dutchman enters the northern classics as a favorite with an asterisk. His dramatic victory in stage 5 of last year’s Tour confirmed Boom in the big leagues. After winning the world cyclocross title in 2008, the wins haven’t come as fast and often as many had hoped when he switched to the road with Rabobank in 2009. He notched a few victories, including the overall titles at the 2009 Tour of Belgium, the 2011 Tour of Britain, and the 2012 Eneco Tour, but his stage win under extreme conditions over the cobblestones in what’s fast becoming a mythical stage shot him back into the stratosphere. And it helped him sign a big-money, two-year transfer from Belkin to Astana.
Coming into the classics, Boom was considered a second-tier favorite behind the likes of Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). With those two gone, Boom’s stock has yet to rise. Why? Because he hit the deck in both the Dwars door Vlaanderen and again at E3 Harelbeke. His presence this week at Three Days of De Panne was unplanned, but he needed to race to help open up his legs before Sunday’s date at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders).
“For me it’s important, after my crash at Dwars, I couldn’t ride E3 or Gent-Wevelgem properly,” Boom said. “Normally, I wouldn’t do it, but now I am doing this to prepare the best way possible for Flanders.”
Boom is hoping for big things over the cobbles. He’s nipped at the edge of breakthrough rides, with a sixth in the 2012 Paris-Roubaix, and 11th in the 2013 Ronde, but he’s never quite been a front-line player.
Crashing hard at Dwars door Vlaanderen, a spill that left him with contusions and deep-muscle pain on his left side, was hardly the kind of approach he was hoping to have in his first, high-pressure season with Astana. The team brought him on to help revive its northern classics program.
“It was a hard crash on Wednesday. And again on Friday, but luckily, that wasn’t too bad. The hip was totally stuck, and the muscles are bruised, so it needs a little bit of time. I hope I am ready,” Boom continued. “Luck is part of the game. Positioning is important. Wednesday was just bad luck. You take some risks, sometimes you lose, but sometimes you win some as well.”
Zanini: ‘We dream of podiums in both Flanders and Roubaix’
Stefano Zanini, the Italian sport director at Astana who leads the squad during the northern classics, is hoping the team will surprise a few of the five-star favorites.
“I think Lars will be OK, despite crashing at Waregem and Harelbeke,” Zanini told VeloNews. “He’s very concentrated, and he’s very determined to play a big role in Flanders. These races are the first big goals of his season.”
The blond-haired Zanini, 46, was once part of Mapei’s classics domination in the 1990s, and he knows the Belgian roads well. He believes Boom is better-suited for Roubaix than he is for Flanders, but said the team could play the spoiler role against the favorites simply by being stronger than anyone is expecting.
“I believe that he could do even better in Roubaix, but I think he has to try his luck at Flanders. If he’s strong, he will make his play,” Zanini continued. “We’ve had some bad luck in these first classics, so we’re hungry. We want to finish on the podium at both Flanders and Roubaix. Why not?! It’s a dream, but the team has worked hard to prepare for these races.”
Belgian fans pushed in around the Astana bus to get an autograph or take a photo. They know their cycling. Even if Boom hasn’t produced huge results on the road, he’s still a cyclocross world champion.
“I like Roubaix a bit more because I think it’s better for my style of racing, but both are a dream, and both are a pleasure to ride. These are the big races of cycling. It’s such great racing here,” Boom said, patiently signing autographs.
“If I have the feeling of Wednesday, before my crash, I think my chances are good. I am very motivated for these races. I think I will be there.”