The Belgian leads team Etixx at the first cobbled race of the year with Niki Terpstra and Tony Martin.
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He fought to be in this position after crashing in the Abu Dhabi Tour and fracturing the side of his skull at the end of 2015. After a separated shoulder suffered earlier in March in the Paris-Nice stage race team manager Patrick Lefevere reportedly said that it was “the end of an era.”
The 35-year-old has won the World Championships in 2005, the Tour of Flanders three times and Paris-Roubaix four times.
“Did he say that? You can see how wrong he was. Ask him one more time,” Boonen said in an interview with Het Nieuwsblad about Lefevere’s remark.
“One year too much? If you’re racing, happy and well, then you still count. Don’t be misunderstood, I’m not going away. I don’t see why anyone should interfere with the retirement of someone’s career. I’ll decide that.”
Tom Boonen talks to Cycling Weekly before the 2016 season
Boonen has never won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, but has claimed nearly every other spring Classic. If he wins either Flanders or Roubaix again this spring, he would set a record for the most number of wins. He and Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) have dominated the modern era of one-day cobbled races.
However, Boonen’s contract extension came late in 2015 after much negotiating. Lefevere told Cycling Weekly that the two talked about retirement at the end of 2015, after Paris-Roubaix or even after Boonen possibly wins the Doha World Championship.
“It was difficult for everyone [who was renewing last year],” Boonen said. “There was less budget. [Mark] Cavendish left for that reason. And then Patrick wanted that I stop after the spring races, but that was better for him, not me. “
Boonen added that he will decide if 2016 will be his last season or not. “Well, I understand that Patrick would have to pay me. But the decision to stop is mine only. No one will decide for me. “
Only in his first year, 2002, did Boonen race with another team than Quick Step. He placed third on the podium in Paris-Roubaix that year after US Postal Service leader and team-mate George Hincapie crashed.