Despite a crash and banged knee, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is improving towards the Tour of Flanders on Sunday. He worked for Mark Cavendish yesterday in Three Days of De Panne and accumulated needed race kilometres.
“He still has a little pain in his knee, but raced today and went really very deep,” General Manager Patrick Lefevere told a group of journalists including Cycling Weekly. “If he can add an extra 260 kilometres from De Panne, then we can start to think how to go about beating The Beast, Sagan on Sunday.”
Lefevere spoke after the first led of De Panne yesterday in Zottegem. Boonen arrived to the bus dirty and tired, but, importantly for Flanders, smiling.
The two spoke on the bus before Lefevere met with the press. The conversation would have centred on Boonen’s work for Cavendish and “the beast,” yesterday’s stage and Ghent-Wevelgem winner, Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Despite Boonen’s three wins, Sagan is the favourite for Sunday’s race through Flanders. Bookmakers give him 3:1 odds. Boonen is at 14:1.
Boonen fell behind over the winter with two visits to the hospital: once for an intestinal problem and once for an elbow infection. It forced him to miss a team camp and his usual trip to the Tour of Qatar. He did not get rolling until the Tour of Oman on February 11.
He made two steps forward, but took another one back on Sunday in E3 Harelbeke. With 65 kilometres to race, he tried to avoid a curb and fell on his right side and banged his knee.
The setbacks mean that Belgium’s home team might rely on Sylvain Chavanel to lead.
“In the past it was a little easier. It was just Tom,” Lefevere explained.
“With the health difficulties that Tom had since December, it’s not so sure [what he can do in Flanders]. He’s still there. If you see when he was pulling in the final, the whole bunch was [strung-out for] about one kilometre. That’s Tom Boonen, and that means that he had good legs, but on Sunday we may play different cards with Niki Terpstra, Chavanel and Boonen.”
Off in the distance the announcer calls Sagan on the podium to accept flowers and kisses from the podium girls. Lefevere shakes his head. Even if he has a full deck of Omega Pharma cards to play, he still has to deal with Cannondale’s hand, the beast.
“We can’t be frustrated by Sagan. You see if you’re a real leader like Sagan, the team is strong. The team is strong because of him,” Lefevere added. “We have a very strong team, too, but it’s difficult to organise the race if Sagan attacks.”