Tom Boonen says that cycling is “already in the distant past” despite only being eight months into his retirement from the sport.
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“We talked about it already in the first few months after my farewell,” Boonen told Sporza television. “It seemed as though it was a previous life. It’s amazing how quickly you put all that behind you. It’s already a distant past, cycling.”
Boonen suffered several setbacks in his final years racing with Quick-Step, including a skull fracture, but brought it all together for the 2017 classics season in the spring.
Immediately after rolling to the team’s bus parked outside the Roubaix velodrome, he shook everyone’s hands. If he looked upset, it was because team-mate Zdenek Stybar missed a chance to win the race against Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing), not because he had reached the end of his final chapter in cycling.
“I was afraid that I would have too much time after my farewell and that I would be bored. But cycling was a very good sport, but it is not the only thing in the world,” Boonen added.
“You can look at it in two ways: it may be a loss, but it offers opportunities to do other things, I have taken those opportunities.”
“It all seems like an eternity ago, when I talk about this spring, I have to pinch myself to realise that it was this year.”
Watch: “Boonen always had class”
Even his long-time team manager at Quick-Step, Patrick Lefevere, admits that new riders have quickly filled the gaps and taken the attention that Boonen once held.
Boonen has been spending more time with his twins and competing in endurance car races on the nearby Zolder circuit. He said he left with only few regrets. One was when team-mate Philippe Gilbert raced clear of their small group, and to the eventual solo win, with 55.5 kilometres remaining in the Tour of Flanders.
“That is one of the few moments that I regret,” Boonen continued.
“I drove to the foot of the Kwaremont to thin out the group. It was not Phil’s intention to ride away, Démare, Vanmarcke and Trentin were sitting in front of me, Phil had a gap, but it was not up to me to close that. That gap was getting bigger.
“But I regretted that I did not just join in. Then maybe we could have worked together, but I gave Phil a chance when he started his solo, since Trentin and I were still with the pursuers.”
Boonen said he hit his top form this spring in Flanders, that in Roubaix a week later he soon realised it was not his day. The race ended a 16-year professional career for one of Belgium’s greats.
“I went over the finish line and rode to the bus, then it hit me: it was over, I had no tears in my eyes.”