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92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005
An interview with Tom Boonen, July 4, 2005
The Big Boonen cometh
After a superb Classics campaign and a solid buildup to the Tour de France, Tom Boonen has continued where he left off during the big one-day races and taken a commanding win in Stage 2 of the Tour. It's the continuation of an amazing year, where some things have changed but others have stayed the same - and that's the way he likes it.
By Anthony Tan in Les Essarts and Gabriella Ekström
When one saw Tom Boonen at the Tour de Suisse two weeks ago, he was a very different man. On the first stage, he was second to Française des Jeux's Bernhard Eisel, and then three days later, in the first real bunch sprint of the race, with an uphill finish like the one today, he finished fourth.
"Actually, I felt better at the Tour de Suisse than today," he said to Cyclingnews with a smile. "I just wasn't motivated. We rode for Michael [Rogers] all week, so for me, it was training."
That fourth stage was won by defending Tour de France green jersey champion Robbie McEwen, the Australian winning the stage with apparent ease as he steadily began working his way back to top form after a very successful Giro d'Italia, which saw him bag three stage wins in the space of a fortnight.
But back to Boonen. People began asking the question: can a man who has already won two of cycling's greatest monuments in one year re-motivate himself for what is according to most Belgians a lesser achievement - that being a stage win at the Tour de France?
It would appear the answer is a resounding 'yes'.
Boonen told Cyclingnews' Gabriella Ekstrom before the Tour's start, "during the period of the Classics it's not easy to train as we have races every three days; therefore it's important to rest and recover," he explained when asked about his training. "The moment where we do the most training during the Classics period is the race itself. The important thing is to have done a good job before entering the 'hot' moments of the races."
To train for a three week Grand Tour is a slightly different task, however, but riding the climbs of the Tour de Suisse served as training in a similar vein to his training during the Classics, and something that most racers will tell you - there's no training quite like racing itself, as he explained after today's stage win.
With his victories at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, Boonen's season is already complete. After his win at the Hell of the North, Quick.Step-Innergetic team manager Patrick Lefevre said: "Next year we will build a strong team around Tom. We don't need pseudo-stage racers any more in this team."
Whether that remark was in reference to Michael Rogers is up for debate, but with his reported transfer to T-Mobile in 2006, it appears the Australian thought it was for him.
Boonen apparently had over 40 interviews scheduled in the month before the Tour de France, so there was also speculation concerning the intensity of his build-up and training leading into La Grand Boucle. However, today in Les Essarts, he cast any doubts of motivation or fitness aside.
"Today, I didn't feel so good, but in the sprint, everything turned out okay. It's always like that - sometimes you feel like you're dying on the bike, and suddenly in the last kilometre, you feel like you can win. Sprinters are strange guys!" laughed Boonen to Cyclingnews.
Just before the start of the Tour, Boonen told Cyclingnews "at the moment I'm not really interested in the results I'm getting. I'm more interested in making sure that I come to the start of the Tour in top form. The Tour de Suisse was a great 'training' race. During the first part of the race there were a few stages suited to riders like myself whereas the final section had a lot of elevation. I'm sure all of this work will be useful for the Tour."
And how valuable that work has proven to be.
Yes, the lure of a stage victory at the Tour de France is strange thing. But with the slightly uphill finish, it was simply a finale the 24 year-old prodigy couldn't ignore, and his two most-loyal lead-out men gave him the best chance of success.
"It's very important to have a good lead-out man," admits Boonen, "but I not only have Guido Trenti, I also have Stefano Zanini, and it's better to have two than none. Today, I stayed pretty much in the back with Guido, in 15th, 20th position, and in the last two kilometres, I wanted to go and Stefano brought me to the front and then Guido started the last kilometre."
When Trenti rolled off, it was up to him. While the last 500 metres looked anything but safe, Boonen kept his Belgian cool, jumping on the wheel of Jaan Kirsipuu (Credit Agricole) with 300 metres to go, sailing past the Estonian at 250 to go, and leaving the field in his wake by the finish line.
"It was a little uphill at the finish line which suits me, so I waited for the right moment and started sprinting... and it was no problem," he said of his twelfth victory this year.
And without a real hill in sight, tomorrow's stage mightn't be a problem either, which finishes in the famous town of Tours - "it's always good to win on a famous finish line," he said.
"I think Tours is one of them, plus the Champs Elysées, Bordeaux, Alpe d'Huez... it doesn't really matter - a stage win in the Tour is always important. But to win in Tours gives it a little bit extra [significance]. I was really motivated today and especially tomorrow with the green jersey and everything, we'll try our best - maybe one stage more, but I'm already happy with this one."
After his stage 2 win, Boonen's girlfriend, Lore, was ecstatic, telling Belgian TV, "I think I'm the happiest woman in the world right now. I'm super happy but mostly relieved, because the pressure had been steadily building up and this win has released it. I spoke to Tom briefly after the stage and it was funny, because he could hardly get a word in. I kept telling him I was so happy for him. I don't need to say things like 'you're the best to me', because he knows he is."
After such a successful year (that's by no means finished yet), Boonen believes things haven't changed too much in terms of his attitude from the beginning of the year - "I don't feel any different even though I realise I have become very popular. This is the price one has to pay after winning so many important races, especially if you are Belgian like myself! I just carry on doing things as I have always done. My girlfriend, friends and the places I frequent give me the tranquility that I need. In Belgium I am still just a normal boy like everyone else."
It's pretty clear that Tom's support base is strong - his leadout men, team management, loving girlfriend and millions of fans - and this plays a vital role in his success both within Belgium and throughout the continent so far this year. After Boonen's Stage 2 win, QuickStep's PR man and former Classics champion Johan Museeuw said that "Tom Boonen is Mario Cipollini and Johan Museeuw in one rider", an indication of the respect Boonen commands as a rider. With this type of unwavering support from inside and outside the team, and his sights set on another possible stage win, the Big Boonen cometh early in the Tour, serving notice that he's not done with 2005 yet.