Tom Boonen not holding out hope for victory in Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tom Boonen not holding out hope for victory in Saturday's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad

by Jered Gruber at 3:01 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Concedes surprise that he has won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and not the Omloop though

Tom Boonen has without question lived up to the expectations placed on his young back by the veteran, Johan Museeuw, who saw him as his successor as the King of the Cobbled Classics. Since his sensational neo-pro podium placing at Paris-Roubaix in 2002, there's nary a race that the Belgian hero hasn't won. There is absence from the win column that stands out though - the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, formerly the Omloop Het Volk.

It's a race that seems like it would perfectly cater to Boonen's talents - it's not that he hasn't fared well in the Omloop either: he has managed several top tens and a podium finish, just never the win.

The Mol native has shown a return to form following a bum knee that saw him out of the mix for most of the season following his 5th place finish at Paris-Roubaix. A win in the first stage of the Tour of Qatar and a string of solid performances in Qatar were a reassuring return to Boonen's traditional Middle Eastern onslaught.

Despite his obvious fitness right now, Boonen remains skeptical about his chances in the first race and first classic on the Belgian calendar of the year. When asked by La Derniere Heure if the Omloop was a goal, Boonen quickly responds to the contrary, pointing to the early placement on the calendar as the reason.

"No, it's not really a goal. In the first years of my career, I tried to win it, but it's just too early."

Half a breath later though, Boonen admits at least slight bafflement to winning Sunday's Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne twice, but never the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad the day before.

I'm surprised that I was able to win Kuurne twice though, without once winning the Omloop."

The early placement on the calendar doesn't seem like it should be too much of an issue for the former World Champion though - he has shown on innumerable occasions that it's never too early to dominate in Qatar. A rider of Boonen's talents can do more than most people can at 100% fitness when still rolling along building slowly for the principle dates on the spring calendar.

One rider that managed to get the better of Boonen though, even at his absolute best, was Fabian Cancellara in 2010. The two powerhouses were a clear level above everyone else last spring, but the four-time World Time Trial Champion was another level higher than even Boonen. Looking back at 2010, Boonen concedes that Cancellara was just the better man last April.

"Cancellara was just the best, period."

It appears that he considers his form an exception and not the rule. The Monaco resident says that he'll prepare the same way this year as he did last year, and expects that will be enough to beat the new Leopard Trek leader.

"If I prepare the same way and achieve the same form, I can beat him."

It seems an almost implausible statement, but it comes from a rider who knows his own capabilities just as well as he knows his arch-rival's, against whom he has raced against since they were juniors. The two have evolved since their early years, and Boonen admits as much when looking at his former happy hunting ground of bunch kick finishes.

"I'm not really a sprinter anymore. The younger riders and Cavendish have made it a different game."

While Boonen isn't the rider to be counted on in a Tour de France bunch finish anymore, he's still more than capable of the win in the world's most difficult and longest races - events like Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Tours, and perhaps this year's World Championships in Copenhagen. The 18 laps of a 14 kilometer circuit plus an opening 22 kilometer introduction from the Copenhagen city center will make a 274 kilometer event - only the best fast finishers will remain at the end of what some are considering an easy Worlds course.

Boonen understands the difference all too well and relishes it. "The World Championships are different than a Tour de France stage though. After 260 kilometers, there are a lot fewer riders who can still win."

If Boonen could manage to beat the likes of Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd, it would be a welcome second World Championship, six years and a world of success later.


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