Belgian Tom Boonen admits that he was just one man short of winning a second world title in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday and closing out his successful career with a rainbow on his back.
The Belgian team took the 2016 Worlds under control along with Great Britain after the turnaround point in the Qatari desert. Wind shattered the peloton and forced the riders into small echelons.
Boonen appeared ready for the final on the Pearl circuit. The Belgian team in light blue protected him and he sprinted. Slovakian Peter Sagan won his second consecutive title and Mark Cavendish (Great Britain) navigated through for silver. Boonen took home the bronze medal.
"We were one guy short for a perfect lead-out, I had to wait for the sprint in the end," Boonen said.
"It's good to be third and not fourth – we had two tactics: Greg Van Avermaet would cover attacks from [Dutchman] Niki Terpstra. Jürgen [Roelandts] did an amazing job, but you cannot change the result anymore, so it doesn't matter."
Like Sagan, Boonen would have secured a second world title. His would have come 11 years after his win in Madrid in 2005. It also would have capped off a career that includes three wins in the Tour of Flanders and four in Paris-Roubaix.
The 36-year-old from Mol will retire in April 2017 after Paris-Roubaix ends in the velodrome.
Regardless, he left Doha "happy" with the Worlds.
"We took our responsibility, we took control of the race and made it hard – I am happy with the result in the end. The way I am sprinting right now, I think I got the maximum out of the race," Boonen said.
He will face an ever-improving Sagan next spring as he tries to end his career with another classics title.
"Is Sagan beatable? What's that question? He's won a few races, but he hasn't won everything… Everybody is beatable."
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