Goodbye ‘Tornado’ Tom Boonen!
Tom Boonen Tribute: Tom Boonen was one of the most successful one-day race riders of the modern era and a super-hero in his homeland of Belgium. A star, a charismatic personality who is down to earth and inspirational. Ed hood looks back at the man form Mol’s rise to stardom in this tribute to Tommeke.
It’s the Quick-Step pre-Het Nieuwsblad press conference a year or two ago; we’re in a conference room in an ‘Any Chain Business Hotel’ somewhere in the Flatlands and the coffee is dire. Big boss Patrick Lefevere is trying not to appear bored as Sylvain Chavanel does his best answering half hearted questions from the impatient assembled Belgian journos.
Tommeke can handle the press
The door burst open; in he strides, tall, straight, handsome, grinning, warm, open – whatever ‘star quality’ is, this man has it by the kiloton. His very presence energizes the whole room; he gives Chava a little hug as the Frenchman gratefully hands over the mic to the main attraction. He smiles, jokes but gives serious answers where required; no one has to tell you that this is a special man, a real champion – Tom Boonen.
Especially the Belgian press and TV
In a cycling firmament of ‘grey men’ he was colorful, cool – and walked the walk; five GP E3, four Paris-Roubaix, three Tours of Flanders, three Gent-Wevelgem, three Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three Paris-Brussels, two Scheldeprijs two National Championships, a Dwars Door and The Worlds. Ironically the only one of the Cobbled Classics he never triumphed in was the one I mentioned at the start – Het Nieuwsblad.
A hero in Belgium
There were dozens of stage wins including six in le Tour and two in the Vuelta; there were even stage race wins – the Tours of Belgium, Picardie and Qatar (four times) and the insanely fast World Ports Classics.
A young Tom Boonen at the Worlds road race in Zolder
Of course, it wasn’t all ‘ice cream and fairies’ – there were the bad crashes – one of which left him with permanent hearing damage – and brushes with the law over his (+) for cocaine. But let’s not ‘neg’ – this is a celebration, not a ‘warts and all’ analysis.
A bright eyed amateur
His earliest ‘result of note’ was second in the Belgian Novices National Road Race Championship in 1997 behind a certain Gert Steegmans who would become Boonen’s team mate at Quick-Step – and whilst displaying flashes of brilliance would never match Boonen’s successes or consistency.
In 1998 he took third in the National Junior Time Trial Championships – another Steegmans victory – but it was as a U23 that real success came with stage wins in the 2000 Triptyques des Monts et Chateaux, Ronde van Limburg and Ronde van de Provincie Antwerpen – and a win in the U23 Paris-Tours to really catch the pro team wins.
Winning U23 Paris-Tours
In 2000 it was silver in the U23 National Championship behind Andy Cappelle; there was no such mistake one year later and the 2001 gold medal was placed around his neck to go with a raft of Belgian wins and a stage in the GP William Tell in Switzerland.
Working hard for US Postal in the ENECO Tour
Showing the older guys how to ride the Roubaix cobbles
It was with US Postal he ‘signed on the dotted line’ – after a stagiaire spot at the end of 2001 – and he quickly repaid their confidence with a brilliant third spot in Paris-Roubaix – a stellar result for a neo-pro.
3rd in 2002 Roubaix
Tour of Belgium stage win in 2003 with Quick-Step
The trajectory leveled off somewhat in 2003 with just a Tour of Belgium stage win to write home about – in the colors of the team he would ride the rest of his career with, Quick-Step. The Belgian team having negotiated the rising young star to join them before his time with the US team was out.
Bit of a ‘mover’
In 2004 Boonen repaid Quick-Step’s boss Lefevere’s faith with wins in the GP E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs and two Tour de France wins among his 24 successes.
Tour ’04 prologue in Liège
Tour transfer reading material
It only got better in 2005, the E3 again, a stunning Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double and a rainbow jersey left us in no doubt as to whom the world’s best bike rider was.
Roubaix ’05 – Ahead of Hincapie
The World champion at the 2006 Tour de France
Boonen suited the rainbow jersey
In 2006 there was a spell in yellow ‘en France’ another E3, Flanders, the Scheldeprijs and runner-up spot in Paris-Roubaix.
On the way to winning Kuurne ’07
The only problem with palmarès like these is that it is so hard to match them, year on year – and some saw 2007 with ‘just’ Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the E3, Dwars Door and two Tour de France stage wins as ‘Boonen on the decline’.
Stage win at the 2007 Tour into Angouleme
Tour green jersey into Paris next Alberto Contador 2007
His Paris-Roubaix win in 2008 and two Vuelta stages helped allay that fear and in 2009 there were successes at Kuurne, Paris-Roubaix and his National Championships.
Belgian champ in Het Nieuwsblad
Season 2010 was compromised by a knee injury caused by one of the crashes which are an ever present risk for a professional cyclist; despite that he was second in Milan-Sanremo, Flanders and the E3 – what would have been a stellar season for most.
Stage 3 win in Qatar
Boonen on the wheels of teammate Sylvain Chavanel and Fabian Cancellara in the E3 2010
5th in Roubaix ’10 – Behind Cancellara, Hushovd, Flecha and Hammond
The season 2011 was ‘quiet’ by his standards with Gent-Wevelgem the only major success – was he on the way out? ‘Nae, nae, nae,’ as the say in the bars in Flanders.
On the attack in Roubaix
The following year, 2012 was one of his best ever; the E3, Gent-Wevelgem, another Flanders/Roubaix ‘double’. The National Title and the Worlds TTT – stunning! But it was unlucky ’13 for the Man from Mol, his season blighted by an infected wound and crashes there were but two minor wins.
Stage win in the Belgium Tour 2014
Fighting for the wheel in the 2014 E3 Harelbeke
Still popular with the fans
In 2014 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne went his way but he was ‘only’ top 10 in Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix but there two were stage wins in the Tour of Belgium.
Climbing the Bosberg in the ENECO Tour
Stage win in Knokke Heist – Belgium Tour
In 2015 there was a podium spot in Het Nieuwsblad but no big spring result although he did win stages in the Tour of Belgium and Eneco Tour as well as the semi-classics Rund um Koln and Munsterland Giro, both in Germany. And it was at the end of this season in the Abu Dhabi Tour where Boonen was involved in the crash which still affects his hearing.
There have been a few crashes during his career
Terpstra, Boonen and Vandenberg – Stannard won the 2015 Het Nieuwsblad against the odds
Another Belgium Tour win in 2015
A shoulder operation in 2015
Last year it was only the ride of Matt Hayman’s life which prevented Boonen from winning Paris-Roubaix for the fifth time, there were wins in the London and Brussels Classics and a bronze medal behind Sagan and Cavendish in those mad ‘Desert Worlds’.
2nd to Hayman in 2016 Roubaix
Winning the Hamme Zogge Derny event 2016
3rd behind Sagan and Cavendish in the Worlds
Celebrations at the Brussels Cycling Classic
This season started in fine style with a stage win in San Juan then eighth in his beloved E3 and sixth in Gent-Wevelgem. He was in the thick of the action in Flanders but a disastrous double bike change after his chain stuck between his chainrings effectively scuppered his chances.
Bad luck in 2017 De Ronde van Vlaanderen
The last race and the last Roubaix
Paris-Roubaix was to be his last race, win or lose. He lost; on a dry, warm, tail wind assisted, record breaking day not suited to aging war horses; 13th and hardly disgraced – there are few ‘fairy tale endings’ to professional careers.
13th in the 2017 Paris-Roubaix
In a televised interview before Roubaix he reminded us that whilst many riders assert they’ll quit before ‘they’re over the hill’ and ride the dreaded ‘one season too many’ – Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx and even Kelly were all guilty of this – few actually do, but he would not, rather joining Hinault and Cancellara as men who quit when still at the top of their trade.
Boonen will be free for a bit more motor sport from now on
The future? He’s said he’d like to ‘do a Chris Hoy’ and go into motor sport; he’s a natural for TV punditry and bike ‘brand ambassadorships’ – whichever path he chooses there’s little doubt he’ll be successful.
What next for Tommeke – Brand ambassador?
‘Tornado’ Tom Boonen, charismatic Cobbled Classics King, World Champion, gentleman, star we’ll miss you, sir!
Spring training camps in Calpe will never be the same again
It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he’s covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,400 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself – many years and kilograms ago – and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.