Qatar plus Tour of Oman will be ‘good training for the classics’
Starting the season off in the Belgian national champion’s jersey, Tom Boonen is ready to return to his winning ways at the Tour of Qatar. Boonen has won 15 stages since the race began in 2002, and captured the overall in 2004, 2008 and 2009.
Winning it a fourth time would not be too difficult, said the Quick Step captain.
“It’s not an easy race, but if you want to take it easy, you have to be at the front,” he said. “All the years I’ve been here, I’ve been trying to do well every stage, so that means that you’re in the front. And then if you’ve got a good sprint ….”
Strong teams like Quick Step can take advantage of the inevitable crosswinds on the unprotected desert roads to split the field into echelons, whittling the field down and increasing their own odds.
But first, the racers will tackle the opening 8.2km team time trial.
“It’s always been a good start here for us,” Boonen said after the team returned from a reconnaissance ride of the TTT course. “We’ve always had a good team at the start. We’ve had a lot of good hard training in December and January.”
Although he was relaxed about the race in general, Boonen said a team time trial is a hard way to start the season.
“The first K of the season is the hardest one like this,” he said. “You’re spitting blood for two days. Tomorrow I get nervous because we start with the team time trial. It’s not the main goal of the season, but you’re eight guys, and automatically you make each other nervous.”
Boonen and most of the other riders in Qatar will be staying in the Middle East for the Tour of Oman, a new six-day race that begins February 14. Unlike the pancake-flat peninsula of Qatar, Oman is quite hilly, and a final-day time trial with a climb will likely decide the overall. Put the two races together, Boonen said, and you’ve got a great block of training for the classics.
“You come here [to Qatar], and you get a lot of speed in the race,” Boonen said. “Now with Oman it’s perfect, because you have one week in the flats, and then one week in the hills, and you don’t have to travel so much. We’ll have to see, but I think it will be a good combination.”
Boonen has won Paris-Roubaix three times (2005, ’08, ’09), the Tour of Flanders twice (2005, ’06) and Ghent-Wevelgem once (2004). He would like to add to his classics tally again this year.