Tom Boonenwith mud splattered face, at the head of affairs on the cobblestones of northern France, was one of the enduring images of the Hell of the North 2002. Incredibly, the young man who had been sent out by his Postal team to cover an early move after only 40 kilometres of racing, stayed at the front of the race until the velodrome was nearly in sight. Even then, only his new teammate, Johan Museeuw, could leave the Belgium rider behind while the experience and strength of Wesemann (who must surely himself one day win a big classic) was enough to leave “Tommy” with the last step on the podium in the velodrome showdown for second and third places.
Amazingly, in the heat and passion of l’enfer Boonen was confronted with the anger and ire of the Belgian fans. The Museeuw and Domo fans who packed the sides of the pave roads did not want to see the youngster challenge their hero in his quest for a third victory:
"It is true, that happened, certainly I did not appreciate this kind of behaviour by some of the Belgian supporters massed along the course. I did not understand this attitude, but at the same time, I definitively could understand the reasons why Museeuw enjoys such popularity with the public. If, one day, I manage to achieve half of his prestige, my career will have been successful."
At twenty-two years, the native of Mol made a spectacular start to his professional career in 2002. Many have already spoken about him being the “Next Museeuw”
"He is full of potential," says new Directeur Sportif Patrick Lefevere, who knows a little about bringing talented riders into the sport.
Tom Boonen’s natural talent on the bike is clear for all to see, but he has also proven himself to have steel like qualities in his character. He was determined to leave Johan Bruyneel and the US Postal Team inspite of being under contract until 2003.
"It was not in their interest to keep a rider who would have only remained with bad feelings, with contrecoeur," observes Tom today with a smile.
The Tour of Flanders for Museeuw and Paris-Roubaix for Tom?
Clearly the teams of Patrick Lefevere are famous for their Classic performances, and the winner of the 2001 Paris - Tours Espoirs race is well aware of this.
"At Quick Step, you ride with the true hunters of the Classic races, I will be able to polish my approach to these races, and these are the races that I love, like the Tour of Flanders for example."
However with the likes of Museeuw, Bettini, Vandenbroucke or Bodrogi around him maybe Boonen will not get a chance to shine next season?
"I agree, but all that does not worry me at all, because my role will not be limited to being a water carrier," replies Boonen, without beating around the bush.
It is a reply mirrored sometime ago by a young VDB who had just “left” Lotto to join Mapei, whose manager was... Patrick Lefevere.
Boonen continues - "Imagine that Museeuw wins the Tour of Flanders: it is not impossible, then, that I would be protected by my team-members on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix."
Tom Boonen is full of ambition, at times almost too full:
"I think I can do well in all the classic races. The proof: Liege-Bastogne-Liege is a race I would love to do well in."
Certainly the career of Tom Boonen will be under the spotlight in 2003!
All photos from - "Photos (c) by Susanne & Florian Schaaf@cyclingpictures.de."
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GREAT PHOTO OF PARIS-ROUBAIX:
From an original article at -