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SELCUK, Turkey — Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick-Step) was the picture of health when he met with journalists prior to the stage 6 start at the 51st Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey in Denzili on Friday morning.
The 34-year-old Belgian is racing for the first time since suffering a dislocated left acromioclavicular joint on the first stage of Paris-Nice on March 9.
Not even a rough and undulating 160km stage 5 could rattle the mending three-time Tour of Flanders and four-time Paris-Roubaix winner.
“My shoulder is fine,” Boonen told an enthralled media scrum about the previous day’s bone-jarring stage. “I haven’t felt anything, especially the shoulder.
“Of course the neck and the muscles around the shoulders are still a little bit weaker than it was before, but we have been working on it every day and its not something I worry about.”
Being sidelined in the spring is not something he enjoys. With four victories at Paris-Roubaix, and three at the Tour of Flanders, Boonen said watching the races from afar was difficult and at times even hard to swallow.
“[I miss the cobbles] a lot,” said Boonen. “Watching the races on the TV, especially the first races, was very painful but after a while I was at peace with my situation and tried to get back as soon as possible.
“Of course, if you work hard for those races and you miss them by just one week before with a crash, it’s very painful.”
Boonen, who took third at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a week prior to the injury, rejoined his Etixx teammates in Turkey and has played an instrumental role in piloting teammate Mark Cavendish to consecutive stage wins on the opening two stages.
“We’ve started off well with two wins immediately,” he said. “For me after seven weeks without any racing it’s going very well. I think the condition is where it is supposed to be and looking forward to going on to the Giro [d’Italia].”
Boonen has won eight grand-tour stages – six at the Tour de France and two at the Vuelta a España – but has yet to race the Giro in his 14-year pro cycling career. And he is curbing his expectations ahead of the Italian stage race.
“My main role will be to guide [Rigoberto Urán] in the first two weeks,” said Boonen. “Of course if there is any chance of riding a good sprint I will try to do that.
“I’m looking forward to go there. … I haven’t raced there a lot but I like Italy, especially with the start in San Remo, as I have a few good friends there and it’s going to be a nice experience.
When asked about the team time trial and the maglia rosa, Boonen was rather cautious with his response.
“That’s a little bit of the heritage of the team to do well in the team time trial,” he said. “But we will see, I don’t know.
“Pink has to follow automatically if you do well in the team time trial and you have a little bit of luck in the first or second stage, but it’s not an objective to try and take it.”
Boonen’s priorities lie elsewhere. A two-time Belgian national champion and the winner of the 2005 world road title, he has an eye on nationals and the road worlds in Richmond, Virginia, in September.
“The first objective now is to prepare well for the nationals and do the Giro,” said the two-time national champion. “The second part is to prepare well for the worlds, and I think we found a course that is really good for the Belgian team.
“I’ve only seen it on video, which is not something you can really count on, but it is a good course for me.”
And he’d like another crack at the classics on his own terms before he hangs up the bike.
With 98 career pro victories, including five wins at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen and three at Gent-Wevelgem, Boonen concedes that he’s already enjoyed quite a run.
“I’ve already achieved everything,” he said. “I’d like to have one more shot at the classics with no bad luck. If you look back at the last three seasons I’ve had almost everything you can dream of … it’s not been easy, but I’ve been able to cope with it and get back on a decent level every time.
“My only wish is to start at the classics with my normal condition and fight for a win – just be able to do it one more time as I wish to.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews.