International Cycling

Boonen ambitious for final Flanders ride

2017-04-01 19:18
Tom Boonen (AFP)

Antwerp - Tom Boonen may be a week away from retirement but the Belgian legend still believes he can win Sunday's Tour of Flanders.

Boonen is a major star in his home country and has won Belgium's biggest race a joint record three times - 2005, 2006 and 2012.

But at 36 years of age this will be his last 'Ronde Van Vlaanderen' before he retires following next week's Paris-Roubaix - the two prestigious races being the biggest one-day cobbled classics on the calendar.

It's three years since Boonen won a cobbled classic - the less high-profile Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne - and contrary to most of his previous appearances at the Ronde, he is not one of the big favourites.

After years of battling with Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara at the two 'Monument' cobbled classics, Boonen is expected to be a bystander as Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet and world champion Peter Sagan battle for honours.

But Boonen doesn't see it that way.

"I'm not without ambition, even though in my mind there is one man above the rest: Greg Van Avermaet, who is without a doubt in with his best chance of winning this year," said Boonen.

"But that doesn't prevent me from believing in my chances. I'm not here for the show - I've come here to win and our collective strength could definitely help me."

Boonen's Quick Step Floors team always brings the most powerful squad to the race with several potential winners.

Boonen has often been the team leader but if he's marked, it opens up possibilities for other riders, as Stijn Devolder exploited in successive years in 2008 and 2009.

Niki Terpstra did likewise at Paris-Roubaix in 2014, soloing away to victory.

Asked then if Terpstra's victory was some consolation Boonen had replied: "When you put in all that effort, it's to win for yourself."

But strong team-mates are a huge advantage on a 261km race with 18 climbs and 14 cobbled sections.

As well as Terpstra, a top 10 finisher in four of the last five years, Quick Step have Yves Lampaert, recent winner of Dwars door Vlaanderen, Zdenek Stybar, a top 10 finisher in the last two Ronde editions, and of course Philippe Gilbert.

More known for his prowess at the Ardennes Classics later in the month, Gilbert is returning to Flanders for the first time in five years.

He was third in 2009 and 2010 and Boonen says he will be Quick Step's main man.

"Given what he's shown since the beginning of the season, our team leader is Philippe Gilbert," said Boonen.

Belgian champion Gilbert was in fine form earlier this week, winning Three Days of De Panne while he was second at both Dwars and E3 Harelbeke.

At 34, Gilbert is running out of time to win Flanders and, although he only joined Quick Step this year, he is certainly not lining up to play a bridesmaid role.

"I've worked very hard to be at this level. I've known for several months I'd be racing the Tour of Flanders and I've been able to train specifically for this. I'm ready!" he said.

Boonen has been warned, not to mention Van Avermaet and Sagan, although they too will surely have much to say in the final reckoning.

But most of Belgium will no doubt be hoping Boonen can pull off one last heroic effort, as he almost did last year when pipped by a hair's breadth by Australia's Mathew Hayman at Roubaix.

Read more on:    tom boonen  |  cycling
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