Tom Boonen Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Tom Boonen is a hero in Belgium, a great champion and also a nice guy to talk to. ‘Tommeke’ was training in Calpe, Spain (again) last month, so when the Etixx – Quick-Step team invited PEZ to come and talk we jumped at the chance to hear what the Tornado has in mind for 2015.
Four times winner of Paris-Roubaix, three times Tour of Flanders, five wins in the E3 Harelbeke, three in Gent-Wevelgem and Kuurne, World champion, Belgian champion, Tour de France points jersey with stages in the Tour and Vuelta… the list goes on. Without doubt Tom Boonen is a star, but things are changing in the World of professional cycling, the young guys are on the way up and Tom became the father of twins; Valentine and Jacqueline on January the 18th. One thing that never changes; it’s January and Tom Boonen is in Calpe.
PEZ: It’s that time of year again and you’re back in Calpe.
Yes, here in Calpe again… must be twenty-five times. At the beginning of the team we went to France for a while and then to Italy, when Paolo (Bettini) was still with the team, but we always came here in January most of the time, but still it must be twenty times. I like to come here because I know the roads and it’s one of the regions that you are pretty sure about the weather. And yeah, I don’t think anybody can disagree that this is a nice place to stay.
PEZ: Do you have the same excitement as you did when you were here the first time?
It’s not the same as when I was 20 years old or maybe 19 when I came here the first time. Then it was all new and you didn’t know what to expect, but I’m still excited, I still like to come here and still like to train here, it’s a very beautiful region the train.
PEZ: What about your Spanish?
My Spanish! ‘Hola señor. ‘ I understand a lot and I speak some Italian as well, so it’s not too difficult to understand, but to speak it is a big step.
PEZ: Recently I spoke to Greg Van Avermaet and he felt that his generation is catching up with your generation with Cancellara etc.
Yeah, it’s not a secret. It’s normal that they should. I’m 34 years old now and Greg isn’t so young anymore either. If we talk about young guys, we talk about guys who are in their first or second year as a pro. But of course everybody tries to win the race and Greg did a certain step this year, he was always there in every race he did. He was always a top finisher, so now maybe he has take the step to win a race and when he wins a race, for sure, more will follow. There is a difference between 5th and winning.
PEZ: Do you think it will still be you and Cancellara at the top in the cobbled Classics this year?
I don’t know, it’s still early to say. At this point my tests are very good, like in the good years. I think if I can stay healthy and I don’t have too much bad luck in the coming weeks, then for sure, I will be on my good level again. I just hope it’s enough; it’s been enough for a while, so I hope it’s still enough. There are guys like Sagan are there and other guys who have been knocking on the door for the last few years. They haven’t won a big one yet, but they are always there so they will win one time. So of course they are getting closer.
PEZ: How did you see your 2014 season? You had good form but didn’t get that big win.
Yeah, we had some personal drama with losing the baby the Friday before Sanremo. I started really well; I won a few races straight away going into the season. I won Kuurne and then two weeks later this happened. Emotionally I was a wreck going into those races. I kind of got into it again during the races because it’s not a bad therapy. I think at Roubaix I was at my normal shape again, at my normal way of riding again, but you approach the race differently if you have had a result already, you are more relaxed and I started to race like a 16 year old again, trying to kill everyone and drop everyone straight away, but it didn’t work out. Still it was a nice race, I enjoyed myself. Then I had a fracture of my hip for the summer time, so no races till the Eneco Tour. I think I got into shape well in the Tour of Spain and the Worlds, so I had a good finish to the season and that helped me, after a little break, to have a good winter, because the last part of the season was so busy. Overall, 2014 was not a year to remember.
PEZ: The Tour of Flanders is changing slightly, but do you think it is a good thing to keep it the same parcour?
I think it is necessary because the changes they made three years ago was like a big revolution going on in Belgium. What people tent to forget that in five or six years people will talk about the Tour of Flanders as the race it is right now, they will forget it was in Ninove before. We have already been to check the parcours out, the day after Christmas, and it’s exactly the same parcours, just the two climbs. Berendries is there because last year there were road works and now the road is open again, so it is just like it was in the past and the Taaienberg isn’t really a hard climb. The final stays exactly the same and I hope it stays the same for many more years to come.
PEZ: What is the surface like now of the Berendries?
Asphalt, just new asphalt.
PEZ: What is the atmosphere like in the team before the Classics?
You know we are a Classics team, we have always been. The guys that we train here with, OK we mix it up a little bit, but normally we are training with the Classics guys, it’s already started now, we are talking about it and talking about Qatar and pushing each other to do well there. All of us think you need a good start to the season and a good start there at Qatar and go from there and see how it ends.
PEZ: If you don’t get a victory in the first races, do things change?
I’ve already said a few times today that the only thing you can do is to prepare well for the season. You know you have to do whatever is possible; train well, take care of your body, then sometimes you are lucky and healthy and everything stays good and you win straight away and then keep winning. Sometimes you are unlucky and nothing goes the way you want it to be, but then there is always next year. I think if you look back I have 14 seasons now as a professional and I have seen the good side and I have seen the bad side, but I’m still eager to win and happy to ride my bike.
PEZ: Is it easier to be in a team that has so many options for the win as opposed to Cancellara who has the whole team riding just for him?
If you look back at Flanders he did the perfect race there until the point when we were in the break away main group of 15-20 riders, we were there with four. You know that makes it hard sometimes, it was also the first time for me to be in that situation and it can be a little bit confusing. ‘What do you have to do?’ Do you try to keep it together for one guy even though you don’t know if you will win or like what we did and try to have somebody in the breakaway and when Greg went have someone to stay with him straight away. That was also something that kind of blocked us, it was a strange situation. It’s something we really have to talk about: How can we take care that this doesn’t happen again. If we get beaten by a guy who is much stronger then OK, that’s not a problem. But if you have four guys in a group like that, then I think we could have handled that differently and I think we will in the future. Sometimes it’s an advantage; sometimes it’s a disadvantage because everyone looks at you.
PEZ: What is your opinion of Bradley Wiggins and his hopes for Paris-Roubaix?
I can only say I admire the guy for doing it. It shows how big a thing Roubaix is, as a first thing and I really like that he likes the monuments, he gives it the value that it deserves. I think more GC guys should ride the Classics, we ride the Grand Tours and I think it’s better for everybody that the good riders should be in every race.
PEZ: Which GC guys could do a ride in the classics?
I don’t know, like this year in the Tour de France it was special with the rain and everything. It was very, very bad conditions, so you cant really tell and everybody suffers in these conditions and not everybody can ride their bike on wet cobblestones. But I always thought that Contador maybe had a good shot on that stage and I think that he handles his bike not to bad and probably if it was dry he can be good at it. It’s like everything in cycling at the moment it’s so specialized, everybody specializing in one thing. I think it’s a shame, but that’s the way it goes. You cannot go back to 40 years ago when everyone was riding the same races. I like it more, but it’s like it is.
PEZ: It’s ten years since you became World champion in Madrid and one of your aims is Richmond. What do you think of the course?
I have only seen it on video, but I think it’s a parcours that really suits the classics guys. It has a short, steep cobbles stones section, then there is a longer climb, the sort of climb that will get your legs empty to the end of the race so maybe you can make a difference on the cobble stones. For the first time in many years I don’t think we will go there to check the parcours out before. But then again we never did it in the past and you are always here a week before and that is enough time. The main thing is to prepare well for it and try to be at your best level. It is a parcours that I think will really suit me.
PEZ: How will you prepare. Vuelta?
I don’t know. It’s difficult with also the team time trial; it’s something we have to think about what to do. If you can be part of the winning team time trial, that is also something you don’t want to miss. But if you do the Vuelta and you want to become World champion on the road, maybe it’s something we have to think about. It’s still a long way to go.
PEZ: The Belgian team could have lots of leaders at the Worlds. Could that be a disadvantage?
Time will tell, eh. There is a long season to go and we will see where everybody is at the point of the World championships.
PEZ: What are you like as a husband and father?
I don’t know, I’m still afraid, we are not there yet, and sometimes my hands are wet because I don’t know what’s coming. For me it’s all new and we get twins straight away, so we are going to need some help I think.