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Tom Boonen: Bike nerds, the new generation, and whether Remco Evenepoel can win the Tour de France

'I think that for Remco, it’s not logical to move teams because he has the two biggest Belgium sponsors in history behind him,' says for classics specialist.

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LONDON (VN) — Tom Boonen has few regrets from his glittering career as a road racer, and the former classics specialist is adamant that riding during his generation would have been a far better experience than mixing with the current crop of athletes in the modern-day peloton.

Speaking exclusively to VeloNews at the recent Rouleur Live show in London, the seven-time monument winner talked candidly about the difference between the generations, why Remco Evenepoel should trust the process at Quick-Step, and how power numbers and coaches now have more sway than ever when it comes to selecting riders for races.

“The standout highlight in general from this year is that there’s more crossover than there was compared to my generation,” Boonen tells VeloNews.

“There was a lot more specialism during my time, but now I see winners from the Tour de France doing the Tour of Flanders again, and you see guys winning Liège, then winning the Vuelta and the worlds in the same year. This generation that we have now is unbelievable.

“They’re racing less but the ones that they are doing are so much more fun to watch. You have guys like Remco, Pogacar and Vingegaard, who are high-level guys and winning everything.”

Also read: Tom Boonen cautions Remco Evenepoel ahead of looming media storm: ‘Everyone is going to want a piece of him’

In Boonen’s day, riders would race consistently from January all the way until March as they build up form ahead of the spring classics. Few races were skipped and quantity was preferred over quality when it came to race volume.

That pattern has certainly shifted in the last few years with riders spending more time at altitude or training for specific one-day events, rather than using a clutch of stage races as part of their build up.

“Even for my generation, we did all the Flemish classics but when I finished Roubaix, I already had 43 race days in the season. So we did a lot of races before the classics because we thought it was the only way to do it. Now you see the guys showing up at the classics with three race days in their pockets.

“They’re fresh and mentally ready to go, and then it’s easier to Liège, and Amstel from that point. It’s different now because before riders would go and do Basque Country and then Amstel and Liège but there’s been a shift with riders doing more training and less racing,” he says.

According to Boonen, there has been a mentality shift within the peloton.

Science and data are more important than ever and the four-time Paris-Roubaix winner is certain that power numbers have become more influential than ever when it comes to rider selection for major races. Before, riders were selected on the back of results, previous form and a degree of reputation but that’s all changed since Boonen stepped back in 2017.

Also read: Tom Boonen calls out Wout van Aert for missing a monument in 2022: ‘It’s all that matters’

“For our generation I think that we were afraid not to race. We felt like we needed a few wins under our belt just to get to Flanders. I just had dinner with Wilfried Peeters and Ivan Van Mol, our old team doctor.

“It’s something that we do every year, and they were saying that it’s the trainers these days who pick the riders for the races,” he said. “It’s totally changed. It’s more and more down to numbers. Back when I was racing the numbers were maybe a 10 percent influence but now it’s probably 80.

“My generation. Even with Remco, I know him a little, it’s all cycling nerds, and all that exists is the bike. It’s very good to look at them but these are different guys. There’s probably some fun guys in the peloton but it’s a different generation, and a different outlook. I could be a bike rider these days, but if I could choose for my own experience, then I would choose from my generation.”

As for Evenepoel, it looks highly likely that this year’s Vuelta a España winner will head to the Giro d’Italia next season as he embarks on his second grand tour quest.

Boonen: ‘It’s not logical for Remco to move teams’

There had been mounting speculation after the Belgian’s rainbow jersey win that Ineos Grenadiers were intent on signing the rider. However, Boonen believes that his fellow countryman must trust in Patrick Lefevere to create a winning Tour de France team around him.

“I think that for Remco, it’s not logical to move teams because he has the two biggest Belgium sponsors in history behind him in Soudal and Quick-Step,” adds Boonen.

“They have such a big history and then you have not only a team but if you take Remco out of the team you don’t just lose one rider but you lose a masterplan for the next five, six years. That would put all of Belgium against you, and it wouldn’t be a good thing to do. In the end I don’t think it would ever happen. Patrick has a big plan, the sponsors are giving him big bucks to try and make the dream come true.”

The major question at this point is just how far can Evenepoel go given his age, current palmares and trajectory.

“I’m a true believer,” says Boonen.

“I don’t say that he will win the Tour de France but I don’t think that you can find anyone who says he’ll never win. He has everything in-house to try and win the Tour, and I hope that he will. He’s so strong mentally, and he can handle pressure. He has the strength and he can really do it.