Tom Boonen: “We were lucky that every Belgian was good!”
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Monday, September 24, 2012

Tom Boonen: “We were lucky that every Belgian was good!”

by Ben Atkins at 9:56 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, World Championships
2005 World champion delighted with compatriot Gilbert’s victory; reflects that is could have all gone wrong

tom boonenBefore Philippe Gilbert’s World championship triumph on the hills of Limburg yesterday, the previous Belgian to have worn the rainbow jersey was Tom Boonen. The 2005 winner, who took his victory in a sprint at the head of a depleted peloton in the centre of Madrid, Spain, was part of the team that help guide Gilbert to victory, but conceded that it could have all finished so differently.

"It was not perfect,” he conceded to Het Nieuwsblad after the race. “The race went on for a very long time at our disadvantage. We were lucky that every Belgian was very good, otherwise I maybe telling another story”

The early part of the race was characterised by a break of eleven riders but, as the laps of the hilly 16.1km ticked down, two more groups made it across, swelling its number to 29. Included in the new group were big name riders like Spain’s Alberto Contador and France’s Thomas Voeckler and, even though Belgium had placed Gianni Meersman in the move, the team took the decision to pull it back.

“A perfect World championships does not exist,” said Boonen. “The only difference is that the mistake that we made, we could still put right. It didn't look good when the group with Meersman got ahead. There were some names in there that you'd rather not let ride away too far. It was much too early to gamble on one man; I said then that we mustn’t take that risk.

“I rallied everyone and, partly to show goodwill, I sent Dries Devenyns to join the British; had we done differently they might have stopped.”

Armed with two of the best Classics riders of their generation, in Boonen and Gilbert, as well as a host of other stars, the Belgian team was among the strongest in the race. This was only true thanks to the willingness of those riders to work together however, pulling for the common good.

“From the start everyone had a specific command, but eventually there was only one goal: a Belgian world champion,” Boonen explained. “When the British let go the lead of the peloton, we took charge of the race itself. We sacrificed Kevin De Weert and Johan Vansummeren, but we had no other choice.

“We rode very hard the whole day. There were two or three times when it was quite dangerous, but we always had good resolve. Everyone did what was expected of him.”

As good friends off the bike - and former Monaco neighbours - Boonen and Gilbert had plenty of opportunity to discuss tactics during the race. The Belgians tried to put their Classics expertise into action, but in the end it came down - as expected - to the final dash up the Cauberg.

“On the road Phil and I talked about how we felt; about how to make everyone hurt in the final,” said Boonen. “We have tried everything on the back of the circuit, but the wind wasn’t good enough. The penultimate lap I reassured Phil and said: man, make sure that you are comfortable; not that he had any fear of failure, on the contrary, but it also hurt him.

“When you’ve got to go, it’s going to hurt, but he had surplus.”

Gilbert’s move was reminiscent of his attacks in the finale of the 2010 and 2011 editions of the Amstel Gold Race, which finishes on top of the climb. Nobody could compete with the two-time winner of the Limburg Classic, but with the finish line coming 1.7km further on than that of Amstel Gold, he had to keep the pressure on all the way.

"At 500 metres from the finish line, I was sure he was World champion,” said Boonen. “It went silent behind him. If there was still a strong rider he could have accelerated; it could still have become tricky, but everybody was dead.”

In the end, despite the slight scare that saw the large breakaway group get away with riders like Contador and Voeckler, the Belgian team controlled the finale, and took its first rainbow jersey for seven years.

“In the finale we dominated everybody,” said Boonen. “We were all in the front when we hit the Cauberg for the last time. Together with [Jurgen] Roelandts I drove forward. We had Phil to attack and me to sprint.

“You do everything in a completely different way when you see that your compatriot world champion. I am not egotist. Not on the bike or off it. Phil also contributed to my world title in Madrid 2005. I think two riders like Gilbert and I should give each other the light in the eyes.

“I'm more satisfied if I can give someone something, and he is very glad that I myself get something. That is not only in the races.”


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