By Andrew Hood
Two-time Tour of Flanders winner Tom Boonen wants to make it a hat trick this weekend on home roads.
This year, Boonen has taken a quieter route to the northern classics and he’s hoping it will pay off with a strong ride Sunday.
“At De Panne, I didn’t want to overdo it in the stage finals because I didn’t want to take any risks leading up to Sunday’s race,” Boonen told journalists Thursday at a press conference. “I’m coming into the Ronde Van Vlaanderen in better condition than I was in last year.”
Boonen, 27, has been uncharacteristically quiet this spring, but that seems to be part of the larger plan to roar into Flanders and Paris-Roubaix with the pressure ratcheted down just a touch for Belgium’s top media star.
“At the beginning of the season, I made the choice of quality over quantity,” he said. “I raced to win during the semi-classics. I feel fresher in the head and I have excellent health. I feel close to 100 percent, but it’s difficult to put an exact number on your form.”
Boonen skipped Thursday’s final time trial at Three Days of De Panne to recover ahead of Sunday’s big race.
With nasty Belgian weather on tap for the weekend, Boonen admits it will be new territory for him.
“The weather forecast is typically Flemish: cold, rainy and maybe even snow. I’ve never raced in these conditions and I’m very curious to see how things will go on Sunday. The weather will definitely make things harder,” Boonen said. “The favorites? As always there are lots of them. From all of them, Cancellara sticks out and will still be hungry for victory, then there’s Ballan, Hoste, and Gilbert.”
Quick Step is rallying its troops around the proven legs of Boonen. Defending world champion Paolo Bettini bowed out of Flanders after determining he wasn’t in top condition to battle it out over the cobbles.
“Boonen is clearly our leader,” said Quick Step sport director Wilfried Peeters. “Stijn Devolder is our wild-card. The notable absentees are Kevin Van Impe and Sébastian Rosseler, but they’re not ready. That’s too bad, but that’s just the way it is. They’re being replaced by Barredo and Wijnants.”
Quick Step for Tour of Flanders:
Carlos Barredo (Spa), Tom Boonen, Wilfried Cretskens, Steven De Jongh (Ned), Stijn Devolder, Gert Steegmans, Matteo Tosatto (Ita), Maarten Wynants (others all Bel)