Etixx-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere says there is no chance of injured Tom Boonen returning in time for Paris-Roubaix on April 12, despite the CEO of team sponsor Etixx giving the Belgian a one per cent chance of returning.
The Classics specialist crashed in the first stage of the Pairs-Nice stage race and dislocated his shoulder. He had surgery, but still needs time to recover.
The incident was thought to have wiped him out for the 2015 classics campaign, but messages on Twitter, particularly from Etixx boss Marc Coucke, caused a small storm in Flanders.
"Breaking news," he wrote, "@tomboonen1 has to train hard, 1% chance that he's at #ParisRoubaix!"
"We normally make jokes on April 1st, but he was early," the team's general manager, Belgian Patrick Lefevere told Cycling Weekly.
"It's Belgian humour. I'm not responsible what the others write, even if they are a sponsor. Marc Coucke comes to the race on Sunday, which will be only his second race with the team this year. I can't be responsible for him at his company party. If you sold you're company for 3.5 billion, maybe you'd joke, as well!
"Somebody writes on Twitter and says that there's a one per cent chance he's riding. Normally, I see a glass [is half-full], but one per cent is nothing."
Coucke – CEO of pharmaceutical company Omega Pharma, which owns Etixx – invited Boonen to a company party Monday evening. During the event, Coucke posted on Twitter a photograph of himself and Boonen and wrote that the star cyclist could race in Paris-Roubaix.
Coucke said that Boonen will preview the Paris-Roubaix course and decide later about his participation. He wrote, "#hopespringseternal"
>>> Tour of Flanders 2015: Who will win?
On Wednesday, Boonen trained on the Tour of Flanders course with some of the team for Sunday's race, including Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar. They rode the important climbs and cobbled sectors leading to the finish in Oudenaarde.
"Given the problems he's had, he's improving quickly. He was stretching and in the gym right away, but we are taking things day by day, which means the recon of the Ronde van Vlaanderen and the following day's press conference with the team," Etixx-Quick-Step's spokesman told Cycling Weekly.
"Having something to aim for will help his recovery and keep his hope alive It's good for both Tom's head and for his team-mates. Terpstra, Stybar and the others look up to Tom and look to him for advice."
The Tour of Flanders leaves only seven days until Paris-Roubaix on April 12. If Boonen did return to racing, he could do so with the Scheldeprijs next Wednesday and help the team in Paris-Roubaix on the Sunday.
Boonen won the 'Hell of the North' in 2005, 2008, 2009, and 2012, but this year he would likely not be in contention to win if he raced.
>>> Tour of Flanders 2015 preview
Today's reconnaissance with his team-mates is a step towards returning, but Lefevere explained we should not get our hopes up.
"Today's ride is his first serious training. He tried last weekend, but... Maybe he had an optimistic moment or maybe he was drunk Saturday evening!" Lefevere said.
"In the next few weeks, the situation will be clarified, but we always said his return would be mid-way into May."
Boonen raced to a third-place podium spot in his first year as a professional in 2002 with US Postal Service. He returned to race every edition since, except when he was sidelined by crashes in Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders in 2013.
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