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Boonen looks for classics rebound after personal tragedy

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Tom Boonen returns to racing this week after his partner’s miscarriage. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step star helped Niki Terpstra win Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday and is scheduled to race in Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, a race he has won a record five times. However, Boonen could suffer mentally and physically through the coming classics due to the “terrible week.”

“Lore and I have had a very difficult week, a terrible week actually,” Boonen said at the start of Dwars door Vlaanderen, according to Het Nieuwsblad. “You never really forget something like this.”

Boonen will continue his return at Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday.

The Belgian couple had been expecting its first child. However, negative signs appeared last week, in the days before Milano-Sanremo, and Lore went to the hospital.

“We didn’t want Tom racing Sanremo while she was in the hospital,” team performance manager Rolf Aldag told VeloNews.

The team announced the miscarriage last Wednesday. “It was up to him to race Sanremo or not. We didn’t want to pressure him,” added Aldag. “He could just bury himself mentally and physically, or worse yet, crash while not concentrated.”

Strong like a Tornado?

“Tornado Tom” broke through in the 2005 classics season. He won E3 Harelbeke, Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders), and Paris-Roubaix, along with the Tour of Belgium and the world championship in Madrid. The 33-year-old now counts three Flanders titles and four at Paris-Roubaix, the latter of which ties him for the most with Roger De Vlaeminck.

Cyclists say that winning takes both mental and physical strength. Boonen suffered physically last year while Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) dominated. Boonen spent time in the hospital over the winter of 2012-13 with an intestinal problem and an elbow infection; once the classics started, he crashed in Gent-Wevelgem and again in Flanders.

“It must be hard for Tom to cope mentally because since December it has been non-stop, one bad luck to another,” Omega Pharma general manager Patrick Lefevere said after Flanders last year.

Boonen has looked stronger this season. He won two stages at the Tour of Qatar en route to second overall, and he capped Omega Pharma’s domination to win the Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne one-day classic in early March. He appeared on track to win Sanremo or to help teammate Mark Cavendish win before the miscarriage.

“I couldn’t have cared less about cycling. I had something else on my mind,” Boonen said Wednesday. “[Last] Tuesday, the gynecologist told us that child was dead inside her belly. On Thursday, she had to go to the hospital for labor. It was a very difficult delivery, which took 25 hours.

“This has affected me deeply and [Lore] as well. At a certain point, I really didn’t care anymore. I have worked too much in preparation of these races to just go and sit in a corner. Nevertheless, it will take some time before all this is in the past. You never really forget something like this.”

Boonen tested himself on the Taaienberg climb at Dwars on Wednesday. “I was not really on my best level yet, but it should be better this weekend,” he said in a team release.