What’s Next for Tommeke?
After overcoming a string of bad luck, poor health and the struggles of dealing with superstardom that came at a young age, Boonen is now more mature, and more ambitious, than ever.
“I just love it,” Boonen said in Roubaix, of his career as a professional cyclist. “I think these last few years, I’ve found more love for the bike. I’m not losing it. I think it’s getting easier, getting older.”
Unlike Belgian legend Eddy Merckx, who won every Monument at least twice, Boonen has little chance of winning on the hilly courses of Lombardy or Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He’s got his eyes set on another world championship, perhaps in Valkenberg come September, on a course that will finish with the Amstel Gold Race’s Cauberg climb. Milan-San Remo is the only other Monument he can realistically win — he’s twice been on the podium — but his future lies firmly on the bumpy pavé.
How many more cobbled classics can Boonen win? It’s difficult to say, though at 31, it’s likely he will aim for at least one more Roubaix and one more Flanders, standing alone atop the list of all-time victories for both. However, with Boonen and Cancellara both hitting maturity, the next few years should be epic. And a gang of younger riders will be nipping at their heels, including the likes of Sagan, Degenkolb and Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).
Boonen can be competitive for at least another four years, perhaps more, if he avoids any major injuries and continues to keep his off-the-bike lifestyle in check.
“There’s no way he’s done at 31,” said Omega Pharma team boss Patrick Lefevere. “We have stood by Tom during his troubles and I believe he will be competitive for many years to come. A champion is always a champion.”
For now, Boonen’s troubles seem to be in the rearview mirror, and a happier, more mature Boonen is a rider at the peak of his skills, enjoying his craft.
“I never have problems finding motivation to train,” he said. “It’s my eleventh year as a pro, and there are always ups and downs, but I never have problems training. These races are the ones I love. The moment I start to feel tired, and not training, then it’s time to stop.”
There’s no doubt Boonen is back on top. As proven time and again over his career, how long he’ll remain on top will be largely up to him.
Velo European Correspondent Andrew Hood contributed to this profile.