By Andrew Hood
Tom Boonen just wants to have some peace and quiet. These days, for the reigning world champion, that will come once the racing season begins.
The dynamic 25-year-old is the biggest story in cycling crazy Belgium, which hasn’t seen a rider with as much charisma and winning attitude in a generation. To feed the journalistic combine, Boonen gave more than 300 interviews since winning the world title last September.
With so much media attention, Boonen can’t wait for the relative tranquility of bumping shoulders at 40mph down the finishing straight.
“People say the busiest time of the year is coming up now. But my busiest period is already over,” Boonen told journalists at Tuesday’s team presentation. “Now races start again, we’ll be off a lot, but I’ll be at ease. This winter, I had two, three appointments every day. I spend more time in the car than on the bike. That was a lot of stress.”
For now, Boonen seems to be handling his rising profile with relative calm. Back in Belgium, especially in his native Flanders, his exploits both on and off the bike make headlines.
Even Tuesday, when he was star attraction among the 30 riders pressing the flesh at the team ceremony in Kortrijk, Boonen looked tan, rested and relaxed.
There’s no doubt he’s ready to trade in press conferences and TV interviews for the bump and grind of racing.
“My form is already great, even with all the stress and the parties this winter. I’d love to have trained better, but after the physical tests we had in Bari, I’m convinced I did a great job,” he said. “I’m a lot stronger than last year in the same time of the year. It’s really phenomenal!”
Phenomenal is one word to describe Boonen’s 2005 season, when he pulled off the Flanders-Roubaix-world’s triple among his 20-win season. He admits repeating those exploits could prove challenging, but he’s still ambitious when he talks about his 2006 racing program.
Like last year, he’ll debut in Qatar, then race in the relative warmth of the Ruta del Sol before heading north for Omloop Het Volk on February 25 and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne on February 26.
After Paris-Nice and Milan-San Remo, he’ll try to impose his will in the spring classics, with Flanders, Wevelgem and Roubaix being his natural focus of the first half of his season.
After a short break, he’ll return for Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen in late May before the Tour of Belgium, the Tour de Suisse and the Belgian national race ahead of the Tour de France.
Defending his titles at Flanders and Roubaix are what’s motivating him despite some efforts by team management to take pressure off their young charge.
“I’m pushed to make from Milan-San Remo my first goal. Patrick Lefevere always says that after winning San Remo the pressure will be gone for the rest of the classics. But that’s a lot of bullshit,” Boonen said with aplomb. “I’d prefer winning a second Tour of Flanders than my first San Remo. For me, Flanders is a lot more important. Plus, it’s very difficult to stay in a perfect condition from San Remo to Roubaix.”
As far as team leadership goes, Boonen has no qualms about admitting that he sees himself as the deserved top dog when it comes to the classics. Even with Quick Step teammate Paolo Bettini angling for more chances at Flanders, Boonen is quick to say no way, José.
“For San Remo and Flanders, Paolo Bettini and I both want the leadership, but I don’t want to share mine in Flanders,” he said. “In Flanders it’s impossible to ride with two leaders. I mean, it is possible, but I wouldn’t like it. And as last year’s winner and world champion, it’s my right to ask that priority. I wouldn’t mind Bettini riding Flanders, but it’ll have to be as a domestique.”
Boonen obviously is confident in speaking his mind. Even when broached about the ongoing bickering between the ProTour and the grand tours, Boonen didn’t hold any punches.
“The races stay the same. They’re only trying to give them a new name,” he said. “But that doesn’t work. You can’t make a classic less important, or not participate in the Tour, just because those races aren’t in the ProTour. It’s ridiculous. Cycling made a fool out of itself.”
It’s obvious Boonen isn’t content to let just his legs do the talking. And the Belgium press couldn’t be happier. After all, they gotta feed the combine.
Tom Boonen’s racing schedule through Tour de France January 27: Doha International G.P.
January 30 – February 3: Tour of Qatar
February 12-16: Ruta del Sol
February 25: Omloop Het Volk
February 26: Kuurne – Bruxelles – Kuurne
March 05-12: Paris – Nice
March 18: Milano – Sanremo
March 22: Dwars door Vlaanderen Waregem
March 25: G.P. E3 Harelbeke
March 28-30: Three days of De Panne – Koksijde
April 02: Tour of Flanders
April 05: Gent – Wevelgem
April 09: Paris – Roubaix
April 12: Scheldeprijs Vlaanderen
May 24-28: Tour of Belgium
May 10-18: Tour de Suisse
June 25: National Chapionships
July 02-24: Tour de France
McEwen won’t race Commonwealth Games
Robbie McEwen is the latest star Australian rider to pull out of the Commonwealth Games set for this spring in Melbourne. Earlier this week, Brad McGee said it’s looking challenging for him to make a trip down under to participate in the event.
The feisty sprinter said officials from his Davitamon-Lotto team aren’t keen on seeing their star product make such a long trip in a key part of the season.
“Our teams have us under contract and they’re the ones that pay us,” he told ABC Online. “It’s basically their decision whether they release riders.”
Other big Aussie riders to forfeit a place at the event are former green jersey winner Baden Cooke, Stuart O’Grady (CSC) and Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto).
Schmitz limping behind
Bram Schmitz – the T-Mobile rider who broke his ankle in an accident November – is hoping to be back at racing speed in time for the spring classics.
Team officials said the 28-year-old Dutchman is ahead of schedule in terms of his recovery, though he’s still not quite up to speed to riding with the rest of the team during its Mallorca training camp currently underway.
“We did ergometric tests yesterday and he performed very well. His basics are very good,” said team doctor Lothar Heinrich on t-mobile-team.com. “We just advise him to stick to the flat for now. Fortunately, there are plenty of flat roads here on Mallorca.”
Discovery Channel will be among the major teams lining up for the Tour of Algarve along Portugal’s southern coast in mid-February. Lance Armstrong used the race to kick-start his 2004 season with a time trial win while Floyd Landis won the overall title for his first major victory in Europe.
Four other ProTour teams – FDJeux, Davitamon-Lotto, Gerolsteiner and Ag2r – will line up among nine foreign and 10 Portuguese teams for the Feb. 15-19 race. Other teams to start include Barloworld, Unibet, Chocolade Jacques-Vlaanderen and the Rabobank development team.
Tour of Algarve, Feb. 15-19Stage 1: Albufeira to Tavira, 153.3kmStage 2: Vila do Bispo to Lagos, 173.5kmStage 3: Castro Marim to Faro, 198kmStage 4: Lagoa to Portimão, 174.5kmStage 5: V. R. de Sto. António to Alto do Malhão, 183.4km
Halgand out of TDU
French cyclist Patrice Halgand is out of next week’s Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under after he crashed Thursday during a training ride.
The 31-year-old suffered a broken right collar bone and dislocated his right AC joint and will undergo surgery Friday to repair the damage.
“It’s quite a nasty injury actually,” said Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under Medical Director, Dr Peter Barnes. “The end of his collar bone has actually broken off and the bone is sticking up so we need to go in and repair that damage and the dislocation.”
Halgand will remain in Sportsmed SA at Stepney overnight so doctors can keep him comfortable.
The crash occurred when Halgand clipped the end of a branch which was lying on the side of the road. The branch flew up into the forks of his front wheel which locked up resulting with him flying over the handlebars and landing heavily on his right shoulder.
The 2006 Jacob’s Creek Tour Down Under will be held in Adelaide and surrounding regions of South Australia from 17 to 22 January 2006.
– Tour Down Under press release