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Tom Boonen to return at Amgen Tour of California

Tom Boonen will return to racing at the Amgen Tour of California in May

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LEON, Spain (VN) — Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) returns to competition next month at the Amgen Tour of California hoping to put his rough and tumble start to the 2013 season in the rearview mirror.

Boonen, 32, crashed out of the spring classics battered and bruised, not to mention with a cracked rib. Boonen crashed out of both Tour of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem before pulling the plug on his spring.

After a rest period, Boonen has been training without complications, and plans to race California to transition into the second half of his season.

“He was training already that same week of his crash,” Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere told VeloNews. “His first race will be California. Then we will see about the rest of the season.”

Still winless this season, Boonen will be looking to notch some strong results in the California tour.

Though feeling better, Boonen skipped out on a trip with the Belgian cycling federation to examine the 2013 world championship course in Italy this week.

Boonen’s spring classics campaign was a wash. In stark contrast to 2012, when he swept the “fab four” of the northern classics, his only notable result was seventh at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen.

“You cannot have every year like 2012,” Lefevere said. “This was once in a lifetime. It was Tom who made the difference for the team. [2013] was a spring season to forget as soon as possible.”

Lefevere admitted the obvious and said without Boonen, the team didn’t even come close to meeting its expectations for the spring classics.

The Belgian manager pointed out that the team is still successful across the season, ranking first among team wins so far through 2013.

Gianni Meersman’s win in stage 1 at the Tour de Romandie on Wednesday pushed Quick Step’s haul to 20 on the year so far, with seven of those coming from sprint ace Mark Cavendish.

Lefevere said it’s still not decided if Boonen will ride the Tour de France this year.

“We will discuss this during California,” he said. “I will not force him to go. Racing the Tour is a hell of a job and you have to be 100 percent convinced and motivated to go.”

Boonen said earlier this season if he goes to the Tour, he would ride to help Cavendish in the sprints.

After finishing a frustrating second at GP Scheldeprijs on April 3, a frustrated Cavendish told Sporza that he would “love” to have Boonen at the Tour.

Boonen can still win a kick out of a smaller group, but in the mass gallops, Cavendish is the sprinter of reference, something Boonen readily admits.

Boonen’s last stage victory in a grand tour came in 2008, while Cavendish has racked up 23 stage wins in the Tour de France alone and is zeroing in on Eddy Merckx’s all-time mark of 34.

“I don’t mind working for Cav,” Boonen said earlier this year. “I can still do a sprint, when everyone else is tired and less-eager, then it’s perfect for me.”

Whether Boonen is eager to go back to the Tour remains to be seen. The last time he raced the Tour was in 2009, when he did not start stage 15 and did not challenge for a stage win in the first two weeks of racing.