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Boonen: ‘Roubaix is the best way to say goodbye’

Tom Boonen says his preparation for the spring classics has been ideal, as he aims for record fifth Paris-Roubaix victory.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Tom Boonen says that racing for a record fifth Paris-Roubaix win April 9 will be the best way for him to say goodbye to cycling.

The Belgian classics star and 2005 world champion is calling it quits on a professional career that began 15 years ago in 2002.

“I wanted to go another full year, and I had offers, but I thought it’d be silly to change teams because Quick-Step is like a family,” Boonen told journalists in Argentina.

“I made the decision. I wrote my agent a message, saying, ‘I’ll continue until Paris-Roubaix. Do what you want with the contract.’ [Team Quick-Step general manager] Patrick Lefevere also thought it was a good idea. Paris-Roubaix is the best way to say goodbye.”

Boonen is beginning his season in Argentina’s Tour de San Juan this week. He already won a stage on day two of the race and has scheduled his winter training and race schedule to prime himself for Paris-Roubaix.

He raced to a third place in Paris-Roubaix in his first year as a professional in 2002 with team U.S. Postal Service. Quick-Step signed him for the next year and he returned to the cobbles every year but 2013 and 2015, sitting out due to crashes in the lead-up.

In 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012, he won on Roubaix’s famous velodrome in northern France. Last year, he placed a close second, pipped in the sprint by Australian Mathew Hayman (Orica – Scott).

If he wins a fifth time, he would become the absolute record holder. He currently shares the record with another Flemish rider, Roger De Vlaeminck. De Vlaeminck took his wins in 1972, 1974, 1975, and 1977.

This will be Boonen’s final chance to try for a fifth win. After this spring, he will focus on his twin girls and reportedly a public relations job with Specialized.

“I wanted to leave cycling at a high level. I’d like to leave it, if possible, with victories,” he added.

“I know I’m going to miss the lifestyle, not just riding. There is nothing that bothers me, not even sitting down with you journalists. I could continue without problem, but it is time to leave.

“I’m going to be 37 this year, and at that age, there are more bad days than good. It’s the other way around when you’re racing at 25 years old.”

Boonen pushed on until 2017 because last spring he was not the classics warrior fans have come to know. In late 2015, he crashed in the second stage of the Abu Dhabi Tour and fractured his skull. At one point, it appeared that one of the cobbled classics’ greats would end his career in the Middle East.

He recovered, but reached full speed only late in the spring. The second half of 2016, he was firing on all cylinders with wins in RideLondon and the Brussels Cycling Classic, and third place in the world championships in Doha, Qatar.

“This is real life, not a fairy tale. The bad times in recent years have helped me build the foundations for what’s to come,” he added.

“This year will be very different. I have had a proper winter preparation for a three-month season, and I can race without burden of thinking about the rest of the year.

“After the worlds [in October], I rested for two weeks and since then I have been preparing in order to reach peak form a couple of weeks before the Roubaix.”

Boonen’s schedule will see him race the Tour of Oman next. He should race Milano-Sanremo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and Ronde van Vlaanderen leading up to Paris-Roubaix. In the Ronde van Vlaanderen, or the Tour of Flanders, he could also set a new record if he wins for a fourth time this year.