February 19, 2009 (Santa Cruz, CA) — We spoke with Tom Boonen on another Cali-cold day before he jetted off to the start of Stage 2 at the Tour of California. Here’s what was on Boonen’s mind five minutes before the race and a glimpse of what to expect from the multi-World Champion in the days ahead.
There are dark clouds above, snow in the mountains ahead, and the temperature is quickly dropping – welcome to another day in paradise, Tom.
Tom Boonen: Thanks, so glad to be here (smiles hopelessly). I was hoping the weather would get better so I could take some risks but so far I’m going to be careful, I’d like to dare more, but not to crash. Today could be a good one for me the way the race is flat at the end”¦
You just returned from defending your title with a three-peat at the Tour of Qatar, how does going from that heat to this cold and rain affect you mentally and physically?
TB: It was especially hard here after returning from Qatar where it was so warm and the muscles were relaxed. You know, it’s so much easier to sprint when the dial is turned up to the right temperature! Here I was feeling good but not in the morning during the Prologue, still it was good for the mind to get a result. My condition is not 100% yet – it’s ok, but my mood is good and the jet lag is fading. I expect to bring it up to a bigger level today.
How different is this from competing in Belgium during the winter?
TB: The waffles (laughing)”¦ice and really bad weather that’s in your bones and there is no escape. So sure, I complain here about the rain that I hate, but really it’s nothing new.
You have serious competition this year, Thor, Cavendish, Rogers – does this put more pressure on you as you’re the lone sprinter on the team and a World Champion?
TB: I always put a lot of pressure on myself, so whether Mark or Thor are riding, it’s equal to me. I don’t really have a rival out there, he’s right here (pointing to himself). I do like to compete against them and yeah they push me but it’s more of the mind than anything”¦I expect a lot from myself and I hope to get better results at this Tour for my team. And Carlos Barredo is doing well so I’m here to support him as well. It’s not just all about my wins – but I will try to win here. If I get the chance, if I play it right, I should be able to win a stage.
Why bother coming here after Qatar as it’s so far away? Why not train and compete in Europe?
TB: I miss my family but this is important, I like this Tour, it’s very well put together, the hotels, fans , the routes, the scenery – maybe when I retire, I will return here with the family for vacation and just drive a car down the coast and eat junk food and grow a beer gut (laughs). I remember a few years back it was all sunshine, so the honeymoon here is wearing off, you know?! But really, I hope to come back here every year and see more of California — it’s as large as Italy I think, ideal for a good training in the Spring – and I want to do better here, I want to win a few stages, and there are a lot of riders here who are really capable of winning.
This year the tour has been modified and tailored they say to climbers more than to sprinters. What are your thoughts about the last stage, which was fairly easy before but is now a wall of pain in the SoCal mountains?
TB: Yes, I know it’s supposed to be hard down there, but I didn’t have time to see it as I just arrived from Qatar. So I guess I’m going to have to deal with the steep grades and bite the bullet as they sy – oh, hey, I have to go, the race is about to start!
With that Boonen sprinted off with his bike to the start. Later on Stage 4 Boonen almost scored his win at the finish sprint in Clovis but Mark Cavendish’s train pulled him ahead of the explosive Belgian in the last 80 meters. Stay tuned for a tete-a-tete with the “Manxman” this week.