Tour of Flanders: Boonen accepts he’s not in same form as last year, yet doesn’t rule out victory
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Tour of Flanders: Boonen accepts he’s not in same form as last year, yet doesn’t rule out victory

by Shane Stokes at 4:19 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Tour of Flanders
"I’m not in my best condition, but anything is possible"

Tom BoonenLining out in Sunday’s race as defending champion but having had three big disruptions to his preparation in recent months, Tom Boonen has conceded that he’s not in the same shape as last year when he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

However the Omega Pharma Quick Step rider refuses to rule out winning anyway, saying that he still considers it possible that he could hit the line first this weekend.

“I’m not in my best condition, but anything is possible. I’ve won races with less condition than this,” he said at today’s pre-race press conference.

Boonen’s first disruption came in November when he was hit by bad food poisoning and had to spend time in hospital. The second came in January when a cut incurred while mountainbiking went septic, infecting his system and requiring an operation. Those two factors together saw him miss the Tour de San Luis and the Tour of Qatar, two races he used last year to build the form which saw him dominate the spring Classics.

The Belgian returned to racing in the Tour of Oman and then continued racing from that point, building form via that event and Paris-Nice. Since then he’s had a complicated buildup, with seventh in the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen – Harelbeke and nineteenth on stage one of the Driedaagse de Panne – Koksijde his best showings.

He dropped out of Milan-Sanremo due to the appalling weather conditions, and then crashed out of last Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem. He picked up a knee injury in the latter, and while he was sufficiently recovered to ride De Panne, he withdrew after stage two in order to ensure that he was fully over the problem for Sunday.

The net effect is that he’s got considerably less racing than last year and also no wins in 2013, yet he wasn’t downbeat today in speaking to the press.

“It’s not the same as it was last year, but it’s not looking that bad either,” he said, choosing to be optimistic. “Given the circumstances, I think the team and I made a lot of progression the last few weeks. We will see on Sunday if it was enough and if it was on time to get a result in the race, but I did the maximum possible to get here and I can’t expect anything more.

“I think after last year this is really not a bad circumstance. If I had the same level as last year it would be very hard to carry the race. Now it’s a little bit different, but I don’t think I will get any freedom if I try to escape in the final.”

As regards his likely rivals, he accepts that two riders in particular stand out as dangers: former winner Fabian Cancellara, and Gent-Wevelgem victor Peter Sagan. However he said that other riders must also be considered.

“Cancellara in a good shape, so he’ll be the guy to beat along with Sagan and Team Sky of course,” he said. “Don’t forget them they also have a very strong team. But other guys, maybe they will able to get more freedom than we have, so they are dangerous teams as well.”

As for Sagan, he accepts that the Slovakian has built up an impressive momentum. The Cannondale rider has clocked up seven wins this season, and went close to his first full Classic success when he was second in Milan-Sanremo. He was pipped there by Gerald Ciolek (MTN Qhubeka) after riding with too much confidence in the finale.

Boonen knows Sagan will be good, but doesn’t for a second believe he is invincible. “Nobody is unstoppable. It only seems like that,” he said. “Of course Sagan is a very dangerous guy to have with you in the final. He’s fast at the finish line. It’s nearly impossible to drop him on the last two climbs, the Kwaremont or the Paterberg. He’s probably the guy who can climb the Paterberg the fastest, but after the Paterberg there is still 13km to go.

“We don’t have the big favorites. We have a lot of strong riders. I think it’s important to keep the team together and be smart. Don’t try to be the strongest. Try to be the smartest.”


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