Tom Boonen confident ahead of Flemish Openingsweekend
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Friday, February 24, 2012

Tom Boonen confident ahead of Flemish Openingsweekend

by Ben Atkins at 1:58 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
Belgian Classics king yet to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but feels good after Qatar triumph

tom boonenTom Boonen, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s undisputed Classics captain, is feeling good ahead of the upcoming Openingsweekend, which sees the Belgian road season start with the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The former World champion has enjoyed his best season start for a number of years, picking up a stage victory in the Tour de San Luis, and two stages and the overall at the Tour of Qatar; his fourth title in the Middle Eastern race.

Boonen is a two-time victor in Kuurne, taking the 2007 and 2009 editions, but - surprisingly - has never won the Omloop.

“I start tomorrow full of confidence in any case,” he told Sporza on the eve of the race.

"I have enough experience to not make me crazy in the race. It is important that the weather will be good, so the transition from the heat of the Middle East is not too abrupt. With these conditions, it may take a long time for the race to break open."

Despite never having made the top step of the podium in the Omloop, Boonen has stood on both of the others; finishing second in 2005, and third in 2007 [which, with his Kuurne victory the following day, is as close as anyone has come to taking the double of both races - ed].

While he is a three-time winner of Paris Roubaix, and a two-time winner of both the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Gent-Wevelgem, the peculiarities of the Omloop do not seem to suit a rider of his physical characteristics, he thinks.

"In the Omloop it’s difficult for the big men to hit the front," Boonen goes on. "The decision is often made there, which makes it tricky."

His four wins of the season so far, with those in Qatar coming after the powerful Omega Pharma-Quick Step team put the peloton to the sword in the crosswinds, leave him confident of a good performance this weekend.

"I also had a good last week behind me. I think I'm ready to ride a good Openingsweekend," he said. "It would be nice if my team could benefit from the favourites watching me. The team is more ready than ever. We have a number of candidates for the win that can survive the battles."

The last time Boonen won the Tour of Qatar he went on to take his third Paris-Roubaix victory; while it is a bit much to predict a similar outcome this early, it certainly shows that the 30-year-old is back to somewhere near his best form.

"Or am I more eager than other years? More especially I’m better,” he said. “Then it's easier to be eager. It is now time to begin; it's time to reap the rewards."

Omega Pharma-Quick Step has had a fantastic start to 2012, especially when compared to the same time last year, with domination of San Luis and Qatar, as well as Andy Fenn’s two victories in Mallorca, and Gerard Ciolek and Peter Velits taking stages in the Volta ao Algarve and the Tour of Oman. The team is currently ranked number one this year, but as the most important part of the Belgian season approaches, team manager Patrick Lefevere is keeping his feet well and truly on the ground.

“But beware,” he said to Sporza. “The coming weeks and months will reveal what all those victories were worth.

“We have successfully completed the first period,” he explained, “but now the second period begins where a new balance sheet is drawn up every week. It is true that we are in a positive spiral; everything works right now.”

Lefevere is confident about the form of his captain, but is keen to concentrate on the job in hand.

"Boonen seems ready too, but the race still has to be ridden” he said. “The art is to take control of the race right after the last climb."


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