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In his pre-race press conference earlier this week ahead of Saturday’s Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) admitted his confidence for the race was lacking. On Saturday evening, he declined to start Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne and said he had more work to do ahead of the major classics.
Boonen’s uncertainty came as no surprise on Thursday, as the 32-year-old Belgian started the 2013 season late following a January mountain bike crash that led to an elbow infection, which required surgery.
Judging by Boonen’s 84th-place result in Saturday’s classics opener, it appears his instincts were spot on.
Boonen finished in a sizeable group that was 6:27 behind race winner Luca Paolini (Katusha) and second-place finisher Stijn Vandenbergh (Omega Pharma). Sven Vandousselaere (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) was third.
Perhaps a bigger story is that Boonen will not start Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, according to a report from Belgian television network Sporza. Boonen won that race in 2007 and 2009.
“I still have a lot of work to do,” Boonen said in a team press release. “I think I did better than I expected [in Omloop]. I’m back on track for the classics. Especially with this really hard weather, these really hard conditions, it went well.”
Boonen added that he “felt empty” after the first 100 kilometers of the 199km race, which featured sub-freezing temperatures. To the delight of the riders, snow that was expected to fall never came.
Boonen was glad his teammate Vandenbergh was able to earn a spot on the podium in the first race of the classics season.
“It’s nice to know if you really have a hard half hour, you have teammates who can take over the actions of the race,” Boonen said. “I’m happy for Stijn. Unfortunately he was in the breakaway with Paolini, who is faster than him and has a lot of experience. Stijn, in any case, showed he was ready and on a good track for the next important races.”
Omega Pharma’s goal in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne is to lead Mark Cavendish, who won the 2012 title as part of Sky, to victory.
“For sure we will start with the aim to bring Cavendish to the final sprint,” team director Wilfried Peeters told the press earlier this week. “He won last year and he is in good shape.”
Boonen will start Paris-Nice ahead of the season’s first monument, Milano-Sanremo, which takes place on March 17.