Tom Boonen has two titles to defend on home soil this weekend starting with tomorrow’s E3-Harelbeke and then Sunday’s Ghent-Wevelgem where he could share leadership with new teammate Mark Cavendish.
The Belgian had five victories to his name this time last year but will continue his 2013 cobble stone campaign in search of a first after a delayed start to the season due to injury.
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Boonen did not restart Milan-San Remo last week suffering in the freezing conditions and no doubt with his upcoming Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix defence in mind. Although, he got through the Tour of Oman, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad as well as Paris-Nice with relative ease.
“Paris-Nice was what I thought it would be. I started out OK, like I thought I would, and I ended up a little bit better. But it was also a really demanding race,” he said of his last stage event.
“As for my confidence returning, it was never gone. I knew what was missing and I just followed the steps necessary to get back on the old level again.”
Ghent-Wevelgem is on a list of races Cavendish wants to win. The Manxman has never been in the mix and a tactical error cost him last year with then team Sky.
However, the 27 year old appears in top form having finished second in the sprint for eighth at Milan-San Remo and in what has been his most successful pro season in terms of number of race victories.
Wevelgem, like Milan-San Remo, is perhaps a race both Cavendish and Boonen have a chance at winning. Omega Pharma-Quick Step sports director Brian Holm has intimated leadership could be evenly divided between the pair this weekend.
“I don’t think they’ve sprinted against each other before in that race and first and second has never happened. If the two of them should happen to end up in the very first group of 40 riders I think we’ll find a good solution for that sprint,” Holm told Cycle Sport magazine.
“When we see the race with the wind, conditions, how the riders are feeling, we’ll speak to the two of them. If we could not make up our minds who to sprint for we’d be pretty lousy sports directors.
“We don’t have to do a lot, we can drink a lot of Coca Cola, eat rice cakes, but sometimes, unfortunately, you have to work and make some tough decisions. I promise you we can do it when we have to.”
Boonen has won E3 five times previously and again has a strong team that includes Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel, who was fourth at Milan-San Remo last weekend. The Classics patriarch, in the lead-up to the 2011 edition, said he preferred it over Ghent-Wevelgem describing the latter as a “shit race” because of course changes. Ironically, he won Ghent-Wevelgem that year and on Sunday, if successful, will mark his third consecutive and fourth career victory at the semi-Classic.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step for E3-Harelbeke: Tom Boonen , Sylvain Chavanel, Iljo Keisse, Michal Kwiatkowski, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, Stijn Vandenbergh.