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Lefevere: Etixx-Quick-Step ‘has life after Boonen’

MILAN (VN) — Etixx-Quick-Step and its classics domination will continue after Tom Boonen decides to retire, says team boss Patrick Lefevere.

The Belgian world champion and four-time Paris-Roubaix winner is preparing for 2016 after ending his 2015 season in the Abu Dhabi Tour with a crash and fractured temporal bone. In interviews earlier this year, Boonen hinted that he could stop professional racing at the end of the season or after the classics in 2017.

“When Johan Museeuw stopped in 2004, everyone said, ‘Ooh la la. It’ll be very tough for the team.’ But then Tom Boonen showed up and we already had Paolo Bettini, who was another type of rider,” Lefevere told VeloNews.

“For 10 years, [Boonen] was always there in the classics. We have Zdenek Stybar, the Belgian fans like him, but we will see [who will lead our classics team next]. The team has life after Boonen.”

Boonen is tied for the record number of wins in the Tour of Flanders (three) and Paris-Roubaix (four) monuments. He counts three victories in Gent-Wevelgem, five in E3 Harelbeke, and three in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. Besides the classics crowns, he has six stage wins in the Tour de France and a road race world title from 2005.

While Lefevere negotiated with Boonen to keep him in an Etixx kit for 2016, the two talked about retirement.

“In 10 years, everyone wants to speak with other teams. He wanted to stay, I wanted him to stay. I wanted to avoid that he races one year too long,” added Lefevere. “Should he just go through Roubaix or the whole season, or a piece of 2017? We had the whole discussion.”

Lefevere explained that they also talked about the scenario of Boonen winning the 2016 worlds in Doha, where he has won the Tour of Qatar four times, and continuing in the rainbow jersey in 2017 or retiring.

“When he was 22, he said, ‘When I’m 30, I’ll stop racing.’ [He’s 35] and he still wants to ride. Many riders have a lifestyle, they are professional, but once they get over 30 they start to realize cycling is a nice job. A player goes to the stadium every day, but a professional cyclist [has freedom]. If he’s at home three weeks, he’s free what he wants to do. If they are disciplined, it works. You realize you are 35, sitting all day at home, that’s not what I want. That’s probably one of the reasons [he continues].”

To have a shot at a record number of wins in Flanders or Roubaix, Boonen needs to have a season without injury.

“First he’s got to get there without injuries, in the last three years he’s never had a complete season without injuries,” said Lefevere, who spoke before Boonen’s Abu Dhabi Tour crash in October. “In 2013, he was six months out, in 2014 three months, in 2015 three months. That’s about 12 months in 30 months.”

Boonen will begin his season in the Tour de San Luis on January 18 and will continue in Europe at Portugal’s Volta ao Algarve, where he will face classics rival Fabian Cancellara of Trek-Segafredo.