Tom Boonen: "I just need a chance for things to turn around for me."
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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tom Boonen: "I just need a chance for things to turn around for me."

by Jered Gruber at 5:34 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Belgian excited about chances at this fall's World Championships

It was a minor occasion: Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert made a small trip to Denmark to preview the 2011 World Championship course in Copenhagen this week. It's a rare occasion though when a pairing like this can put together two riders with such differing fortunes and success over the past few months.

Gilbert - fresh off one of the most impressive spring's in recent history, topped off by the holy Ardennes quartet of wins, the unquestioned best rider in Belgium and the world.

Boonen - Belgium's former unquestioned best rider, fresh off a spring worth forgetting. A disappointing Sanremo, 4th at Flanders, nothing at Roubaix, only a win at Gent-Wevelgem holding his ship upright through the spring.

Some have already begun to sound the death knell of Tom Boonen, but at only 30 years old, it would seem a bit early to begin the tolling of the bells. As with the career of any one-day great, there are ebbs and flows.

While it wasn't the kind of spring that made Boonen a legendary cobbled dominator, the rider from Mol is quick to defend his season.

"Hey, we cannot say that my season has been bad," said the Quick-Step leader to La Derniere Heure. "I even think it was good. I still won a Classic at Gent-Wevelgem, so I cannot complain, even if luck hasn't been entirely with me. I had my share of falls. I just need a chance for things to turn around for me."

Bad luck was indeed a major part of Boonen's spring. The normally crash-proof rider hit the ground hard at the Tour of Qatar, the Scheldeprijs, and finally, Paris-Roubaix.

A bout with the flu laid the three-time Paris-Roubaix winner low at Tirreno-Adriatico and set him back for Milano-Sanremo, where he was a non-factor. Boonen bounced back the next weekend to take the win at Gent-Wevelgem, but then the problems began in earnest.

Flanders was a disappointing day, but oh so close to perfection. Boonen missed the winning move, but nearly stunned the leading trio in the closing meters, before Cancellara saw him coming and opened the sprint. It was clear that Boonen was a step behind though.

His chances at Roubaix never got a chance to get off the ground with a mechanical in the Arenberg Forest followed by a crash during the ensuing chase to get back on. The scary part, however, was the fact that he was actually going to make it back on. Considering the awesome gap that had opened up during his agonizing wait in the Trouee, it was clear that he was on a good day.

Good day or not, his day ended when he hit the pavement. Spring over. No Monuments for a second year in a row.

Boonen's relatively quiet past two seasons have been the complete opposite of Gilbert's. Where Boonen has slid, Gilbert has leapt forward to the absolute top.

When faced with the question of what it's like to not be Belgium's golden child anymore, Boonen seems less than perturbed.

"Everybody asks me what it's like not to be number one in Belgium, but between Philippe and myself, we really do not think about this kind of thing. Phil and I have known each other for sixteen years, and we have no problems toward one another. What he has done this spring is truly phenomenal, unbelievable. In a sense, I'm not surprised though either, because we had long known he was capable of such things."

At 30, there's still a lot of racing to be done for Boonen, and a whole bunch of time available to return to the form and stature that made him one of the world's most feared sprinters and one day specialists.

It's a naive person who would count Boonen out, and in the opinion of Tom Boonen, his return to the top could be capped this fall in Copenhagen.

"It is a route that suits me," said the 2005 World Champion to "It's fast. It is not too hard, but still hard enough. I think it will be a sprint, so it's good for me. With this circuit, my options are pretty good. It's a long hard sprint with a 6-7% grade. It fits me well."

A lot has changed since 2005 though - the ranks of the sprinter elite are brimming with huge talents, and when Boonen takes the start at the end of September in Copenhagen, he'll be one of a slew of major contenders at best, and more likely, an outside chance for the win.


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