Tom Boonen: “That cobbled stage to Arenberg would be something for me”
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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tom Boonen: “That cobbled stage to Arenberg would be something for me”

by Ben Atkins at 12:12 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Tour de France
Belgian Classics king considers a return to the Tour de France after two-year absence

tom boonenAfter his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team manager Patrick Lefevere stated last month that Tom Boonen was considering a return to the Tour de France, the former Belgian champion has confirmed his intentions to Het Laatste Nieuws. In 2012, at the end of his unprecedentedly successful Classics campaign, Boonen indicated that he might never return to the three-week race, but the combination of missing the team camaraderie, and - more significantly - the inclusion of some of the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, has made him think again.

"I spoke with team manager Lefevere and directeur sportif [Wilfried] Peeters about starting, long before the route was known," Boonen told the Belgian newspaper.

Last year’s Tour saw Omega Pharma-Quick Step take two stages through sprinter Mark Cavendish, one through World time trial champion Tony Martin, and another opportunistic breakaway victory through Matteo Trentin. This made Boonen want to be part of the experience; as did the team’s near-misses, as Cavendish felt the unfamiliar pang of defeat in a number of sprint stages, and the team - which was reigning World team time trial champion - was denied by the closest of margins.

"Success is contagious and my heart bled,” Boonen said. “I started to really miss the Tour. Or rather the team, the internal atmosphere, the fight together for the same goal.

"Now take that team time trial [which Omega Pharma-Quick Step lost to Orica-GreenEdge by just 75 hundredths of a second - ed]. To lose by so narrow a margin really hurts,” Boonen added. “Everyone sat in sackcloth and ashes. In such a difficult time I can help the team. Why shouldn’t I go?”

Despite considerable success in the Tour de France, Boonen has suffered considerable bad luck in the Tour de France. After taking two stages in his race debut in 2004, including the prestigious final sprint on the Champs-Élysées, and taking the first two sprint stages on his second appearance in 2005, the former World champion has crashed out of the race almost every time since.

The last time - and only the second time - the 33-year-old managed to get to Paris was in 2007, when he had also taken two stages, and won the green points jersey. His latest appearance at the race saw him crash in the treacherous finish in Cap Fréhel on the fifth stage, and abandon with his injuries two days later.

"I'm not disgusted by the race,” he stated. “I have some beautiful memories of my six appearances, including six stage victories, four days in yellow [in 2006, while reigning World champion - ed], and the green jersey in 2007.”

Were he to start the Tour in 2014, however, Boonen would find himself in the new position of not being the focus of the team’s efforts. Omega Pharma-Quick Step has signed Colombian climber Rigoberto Urán, who will likely be the team’s general classification rider, while Cavendish will still be the focus for the sprint stages.

Boonen would relish the lower pressure associated with a lower key role, but would also be the Belgian team’s key man when the race crosses the cobbles on stage five.

"The media will also not ask me how many stages I am going to win and if I’m going the Green Jersey, because we will have Mark Cavendish there for that,” Boonen said. “But that cobbled stage to Arenberg might be something for me. I really like the look of it.”

The last time the Tour crossed the cobbles of the North was in 2010, but Boonen was forced to miss the race as he suffered from the knee injury he sustained in crashes at the Tour of California and Tour de Suisse. The day was dominated by the Classics specialists, as Fabian Cancellara blew the peloton apart, and Thor Hushovd took the victory; adding Boonen to the mix in 2014 will surely make the controversial stage even more compelling.


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