WHERE IS BOONEN'S FORM?
This is a big week for Tom Boonen. A very big week.
The Tour of Flanders is less than a fortnight away and, apart from a brief flourish at the Tour of Qatar and one good day at the Tour of California, it's been a very low-key opening phase of the season for the Belgian.
Of course Boonen and his Quick Step team managers will insist he's holding back his form for the big ones - the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - in the hope that he can repeat his amazing double of 2005.
But with one of his main rivals, Fabian Cancellara, in blistering form, and others such as Philippe Gilbert, Alessandro Ballan, even Leif Hoste, showing the first buds of spring form, Boonen's lack of results or notable performances of late raise question marks.
Tirreno-Adriatico may only have been a training race, but at Milan-San Remo he failed to get over the Poggio at the very front - in common with many other sprinters.
He really needs to show himself this week. Tomorrow (Wednesday) is the Dwars Door Vlaanderen, which Boonen won last year. On Saturday there's the Grand Prix E3 at Harelbeke on Saturday - which Boonen has won for the past four years.
Two good races there will show he's on the right track.
Usually Boonen skips Sunday's Fleche Brabanconne, as the course does not favour him, and this year is expected to be no different.
Then he'll tune up for Flanders with at least a couple of days at the Three Days of De Panne.
Boonen will be in the mix at Flanders, there can surely be no doubt about it. But will he be on the front row of the grid when it comes to the favourites? This year we can't be so sure.
BOONEN'S SEASON SO FAR
Tour of Qatar
Three stage wins and the overall classification in the bag but really Qatar is a soft field and it's too early in the year to have any significance.
Tour of California
One stage win, in Sacramento was all Boonen had to show for ten cold, rainy days in America. It was enough to show his face and justify himself to the team's bike sponsor, Specialized.
He only flew back from California five days before the Belgian season opener and, were he not Tom Boonen, it's unlikely he'd have started. Looked good for the first half of the race but was non-existent when the pace lifted around 50 kilometres from the finish and he ended up 85th, in a group six minutes down.
It wasn't just Boonen, the whole Quick Step team had a nightmare at Het Volk. The following day's race was better. Boonen was instrumental in setting up the win for team-mate Steven De Jongh. Boonen himself was fourth.
Having skipped Paris-Nice because he said it didn't offer enough sprinting opportunities, he contested only one finish in the Italian alternative, taking 10th on stage four, which was won by Alessandro Petacchi. Quick Step's bosses were quick to stress nothing was holding Boonen back, giving the impression he was keeping his powder dry.
Didn't show himself all day and was one of the big-name sprinters who lost the race on the climb of the Poggio when it split up.