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Boonen: The Worlds are Like a Really Long Kermesse...
By Staff
Date: 9/20/2005
Boonen: The Worlds are Like a Really Long Kermesse...

This interview appeared in the Gazet van Antwerpen.

Gazet Van Antwerpen: You didnít look real super at the Vuelta, unlike your direct opponent Alessandro Petacchi who beat you several times. How did you handle that?

Boonen: I said it before the Vuelta and Iíll say it again: I didnít go there to win stages, but to get into better shape. But I would have liked to win the stage to Cuenca, because Petacchi didnít make the cut there. And okay, that went wrong, but apart from that I left the Vuelta feeling satisfied.

GVA: Not even a little bit of doubt? Because of Petacchiís fantastic form I mean, not because you were below-par or anything.

Boonen: Look, Petacchi will be the man to beat in Madrid, I donít think anybody should have any doubts about that. But I believe in my own chances, the Vuelta hasnít changed anything when it comes to that. Call it camouflage if you will. Besides, Iím not so sure itíll be a sprint anyway.

GVA: Petacchi, on the other hand, is sure it will be.

Boonen: Iíve got my reasons to think differently. I didnít inspect the parcours in Madrid myself, but there was a lot of talk about it in the peloton during the Vuelta. It could prove to be much tougher than most of us expect. And Petacchi Ďonlyí has 8 riders this time around. If - say - two of those have a bad day then that leaves him with only 6 riders. And then thereís the Spaniards: even with Freire on their team they would have tried to dynamite the race, and now that they depend on Valverde I expect an even heavier bombardment. Anyway, even if it does come down to a sprint, Iíve got a chance: itís still a 270km race, and the question remains if Petacchi can keep all the Italians in line. Weíll see.

GVA: Do you have a battle plan in mind; a specific tactic to outsmart the Italian brigade next weekend?

Boonen: A battle plan will be useless Iím afraid, itís impossible to depend on a certain scenario. Why? Because the worlds are a lottery, a really long kermesse even. The Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, in those races you can make a prediction: you know that at a certain point only the strongest riders are up front anymore and will make out among each other who wins the race. A world championship is different each year.

GVA: Lottery, a really long kermesseÖyouíd almost think that a world championship isnít such a big deal.

Boonen: If Iím honest: winning the spring double means more to me than becoming world champion. But itís still a great race every rider wants to win, of course. Look how many great riders have wanted to become world champion and never could, no matter how hard they tried. That says enough. Youíre riding for a jersey, for a title: thatís what makes it special. With my 24 years Iíll get plenty more chances, sure, but I figure you canít start soon enough. Let me put it diplomatically: Iíd like to win the worlds, some day.

GVA: And itís not like you have an obligation to win in Madrid.

Boonen: No, exactly, because my season has been more than successful already. But that world championship title would turn a great season into a dream season, thatís in the back of my head. But I donít have to win, my season was great as it is.

GVA: So youíre not feeling nervous for Sunday?

Boonen: Oh, I am. Iím always nervous before a big race. The classics, the worlds: you need a healthy amount of nervousness for those, your body has to be tense. It used to be even worse in the youth squads, where the world championships are even more important than at the pros. A pro rider has a lot of great races each season that he can win, but as a youth rider the worlds are pretty much the only way to show what youíre capable of to a big public.

GVA: Youíre aware that cycling-crazy Flanders expects a lot from its hero next week, right?

Boonen: But thatís only external pressure. Look, Iím still only 24, and Iím still not the rider that people seem to take me for. My palmares arenít big enough for that yet. Becoming world champion is definitely a goal, itís one of the things that has kept me motivated for the last part of the season. But I donít fixate on that title.

That all eyes are on me, regardless? (sighs) I canít help that, and yeah, it does bother me from time to time. I sometimes wish there were 3 Tom Boonens riding around here so that the attention would get divided up a bit. I donít get a kick out of being well-known, like many people seem to think. Besides, I think that there are a lot of other young and talented riders in Belgium: Nick Nuyens, Philippe Gilbert, etcÖBelgium has more than one promising rider.

GVA: Nuyens and Gilbert will be two important team mates at the worlds Sunday.

Boonen: There was a lot of talk about the composition of the Belgian team. What I wanted from it? Bah, hard to say. I want a few guys with me in the finale because I want - and need - to stay up front with a minimal loss of strength. But Iím sure that goes for everyone who wants to win.

GVA: Howís your history at the worlds anyway?

Boonen: Quite positive, if I say so myself. In Zolder I got trapped behind that crash in the final kilometres, so I canít say much about that. Hamilton was good, 15th, but could have been a lot better. And everyone knows what happened at Verona last year. I was having serious intestinal problems before the race, but I started anyway and abandoned without any chances. [Note: Boonen would turn out to have had a rare intestinal condition from birth and underwent surgery in the off-season.]

GVA: In the Vuelta you complained a lot about making the wrong choices in the sprint: choosing the wrong riderís wheel, a guy like Zanotti making a dirty move, etc. That could happen in Madrid too.

Boonen: The Ďauto-pilotí wasnít working properly yet at the Vuelta. You have to keep in mind that I hadnít ridden a sprint since the Tour and that I had to get over a few crashes. So, you tend brake faster or lose a team mateís wheel a little bit quicker.

GVA: You canít afford such mistakes in Madrid, should it come down to a sprint.

Boonen: That last, sharp turn will probably be suicidal. Whoever makes a mistake there will be out of contention. McEwen usually is the man who takes advantage of other ridersí mistakes. Itís really pretty simple: the top sprinter that doesnít make any mistakes will win the sprint. So you need a lot of luck, but I believe that you make your luck to an extent, if you work hard. On the other hand, you canít control everything. When sprinting at the Tour you know more or less who will do what. If rider X does this, then I have to do that. Thatís just experience. But in a worlds sprint, things are a lot harder to judge because you have to think about what country a riderís from, but also what team. So, itís going to be a complex sprint where weíll have to use our heads as well as have a good bit of luck.

GVA: And what if you win?

Boonen: Then weíll build a huge party, of course! A world championship is a big party in itself anyway, thatís something that surprised me when I first participated in 2002. Belgian fans are very worlds-minded; even in Canada in Hamilton there were a whole lot of fans at the side of the road. What I expect this time? Hard to say. I know that there will be at least 50 fans coming down to Madrid from Balen [Tomís hometown], but I expect itíll be a lot more than that. And no, I donít stay indifferent to that attention. But I donít think those supporters will help me ride any faster either.

GVA: A world champion title would propel your popularity to incredible heights around here.

Boonen: (sighs deeply) And that brings us back to the Monaco story again, I guess. [Note: Tom will be moving to tax-paradise Monaco soon, a decision that has been met with mixed feelings by some of his fans.] Really, I was stunned when I heard some of the negative reactions. Iím taking that step for myself, I donít want to collapse under the weight of my success by staying in Belgium. Besides, it wonít change anything, people will see me race just as much as before. So whatís it to them if Tom Boonen is watching tv during winter in Balen or in Monaco? Nothing!

GVA: Any other big news?

Boonen: (dead serious) Iím considering getting a sex-change during the off-season. I just havenít found a fitting first name yet. But I donít think thatíll be interesting enough for the papers, or will it? (bursts out in laughter)

Source: Gazet Van Antwerpen, Translated by Jan Janssens.

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