AL BUSTAN, Oman (VN) — Classics star Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors), who is retiring after Paris-Roubaix, is firing on all eight Flemish cylinders after a worrying Tour of Oman crash Tuesday.
Boonen’s attacks in stage 2 Wednesday near Muscat appropriately earned him points in the most aggressive rider competition. Belgians and fans worldwide welcomed Boonen’s return after a high-speed crash in the final kilometer of stage 1.
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“I got a lot of messages and my family was concerned when they didn’t hear any news about the crash, but I could put them at ease,” Boonen explained preparing in the Arabian warmth ahead of stage 2.
“The thing is with cycling, the images come first. The very terrible images just show the rider hit the ground and then the camera goes away. At home they know how things work by now, if they don’t get a phone call immediately, usually, it’s not that bad.”
Boonen rolled over the line 1:23 minutes later after Alexander Kristoff (Katusha – Alpecin) sprinted to victory. With the back of his blue jersey ripped open, he rode gently toward his team’s temporary base in an adjacent garden. After a three-minute talk, he rode to the hotel in the same torn top.
Alarm bells rang through northern Europe with approaching classics like the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), April 2, and Paris-Roubaix, the following Sunday. Boonen, who has won Paris-Roubaix a record four times (tied with Roger De Vlaeminck), plans to retire in the famous velodrome after the race.
Early crashes in previous seasons — a dislocated shoulder in Paris-Nice, fractured rib in Flanders, and a fractured skull in the Abu Dhabi Tour — put the brakes on Boonen’s plans. This time he appears to have escaped without serious consequences.
“I was able to sleep very well overnight. Obviously, I’m stiff after the impact, and it’ll be two extra days of suffering, but nothing I can’t deal with,” Boonen said.
“Maybe it’s strange to say but if you fall at a high-speed you don’t hurt yourself most of the time. It’s when you fall at slower speeds and you don’t slide, that’s where you break bones. This time, I could roll and keep a brace position.
“It was this kind of fall where I had a second to realize what was happening and thought, ‘There’s no way out, I’m going to the ground.’ Those are the worst, you see the fall coming!”
Boonen moved into position for the sprint behind teammate Yves Lampaert. As they charged forward, Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain – Merida) came from the left to the right and Tyler Farrar, done leading out Dimension Data teammate Kristian Sbaragli, swung off left. Lampaert entered a bottleneck and Boonen fell into his back wheel and on Jakub Mareczko (Wilier – Selle Italia) advancing on his left side.
“I just didn’t have enough space,” Boonen said. “The moment we went, Farrar steers to the right, he was just bringing his team up to the front, and then for some reason, a brain fart as we say, he fully comes back to the left. At that point, the riders left of us were coming to the front as well, all trying to be on the wheel; it bottlenecked.”
Farrar told VeloNews he simply did his work and heard a crash behind, but that nothing unusual took place.
“I’m happy it was only scrapes,” Boonen said. “Three minutes after the crash, I’d forgotten about it, but at the moment, I was furious. Not because of the crash, but because I couldn’t sprint, and it’s not like this race is loaded with sprint opportunities. My goal was to sprint and then to work on my condition for the rest of the week. It’s a small setback, but at the end of the day, it won’t make much a difference.”
Boonen already showed his strength by winning a stage in Argentina’s Tour de San Juan last month. Doing so, he became the first professional cyclist to win on disc brakes. In Oman, he appears to be the only one using them.
Today’s finish to Al Bustan showed that the crash failed to make much of a difference. It will come as a relief to Boonen and his fans with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne next weekend and the Ronde van Vlaanderen only 46 days away on April 2. Boonen says goodbye in Roubaix one week later.