With third win, Boonen joins Flanders’ elite in Oudenaarde

After his third win in Flanders, Tom Boonen has his sights on Paris-Roubaix, the Olympics and world championships

OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) — In the window of the Ronde van Vlaanderen Museum in Oudenaarde, Belgium, sit cobblestones bearing the names of the race’s storied winners. Among these stones you will find only a handful of repeat winners and even fewer who share the race record of three wins. With his third victory Sunday, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Tom Boonen – who won the race previously in 2005 and 2006 — joined Italian Fiorenzo Magni (1949, 1950, 1951) and Belgians Achiel Buysse (1940, 1941, 1943), Eric Leman (1970, 1972, 1973) and Johan Museeuw (1993, 1995, 1998) in an elite club of five.

“It’s amazing. It’s only now that it’s starting to get in my head, like ‘I’ve won three times the Tour of Flanders,’” Boonen explained at his post-race press conference near the finish. “At the start of the season I already set the date and knew that if I could have a good season with no injuries [it might be possible]. I have a lot of races this season that I can have a record, but to have the record with these other guys? I think that winning this race three times puts the races I won before again in the spotlight and shows you that you’ve already had a nice career.”

Wistful reflection and window cobbles aside, don’t expect Tom Boonen to become a museum piece any time soon. Indeed, 2012 may go down as the veteran’s finest season to date. Having won last week’s E3 Prijs Harelbeke and Ghent-Wevelgem, the rider has ascended to the top of the UCI WorldTour’s individual points classification with 266.

This lead could grow substantially, should Boonen win next weekend’s Paris-Roubaix.

Could back-to-back victories at the sport’s most revered cobbled classics be in the works? The odds are in his favor, particularly after a feed zone crash that forced rival Fabian Cancellara out of Flanders with a shattered collarbone.

“Paris-Roubaix? It would be fantastic to win it after having won the E3, Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders,” said Boonen. “I am going to try. It is a race that suits me better than the Tour of Flanders.”

“It’s a shame,” Boonen remarked of Cancellara’s injury Sunday. “I know how it feels like if you do all the work and then you lose it, you lose all your chances like this. But it’s life and it’s bike riding and sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re not. I’m sure he will come back strong.”

Boonen’s easygoing approach extends beyond his thoughts on Cancellara.

“I live my life day-by-day and I do my career day-by-day, so right now I want to go to the hotel and have a shower and enjoy today, and then we’ll think about tomorrow,” the rider added when asked about his future goals.

But don’t let Tom Boonen fool you. His aims are lofty and Cancellara isn’t the only rider squarely in his crosshairs.

“After Roubaix there’s the Olympics and the World Championships,” Boonen noted Sunday with a smile.

Take note, Mark Cavendish, Tommeke is back and better than ever.