Current Belgian champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step) will not be defending his driekleur jersey in Leuven this weekend; neither will he be starting the Tour de France the following weekend. The 29-year-old from Mol, near Antwerp, has been suffering with left knee problems since the stage 1 crash of the Tour of California. A further crash, along with the cold, wet weather in last week’s Tour de Suisse, has exacerbated the injury forcing him to rest completely.
Boonen was originally slated to ride both the Belgian championships and the Tour, with the aim of winning stages and repeating his points jersey triumph of 2007. He trained for 5 hours on the championships course yesterday though, and was in considerable pain afterwards. He had a scan on the joint and tendons at the hospital in Herentals and has been prescribed two weeks rest; this means that riding the Tour, which starts in eight days time, is out of the question.
"I'm very sad,” said Boonen “After three days of rest, yesterday I trained for five hours on the parcours of the National Championship in Leuven. The knee pain always accompanied me. During the last hour of training I had to stop more than once because of the pain. Everything began with the crash in California and the situation became even worse after the fall in Switzerland.
“I’m very sad for me,” he continued, “for the team, and the sponsors, and for all the fans who were waiting for me on the roads especially in the passage through Belgium. My next goal now is to work 100% to recover well and try to make a good final of the season.”
The absence of “Tornado Tom” from the Tour is a serious blow to the Quick Step team, and to Belgian cycling in general. Stage 2 of the race finishes in the Belgian capital of Brussels and Boonen was probably the country’s best hope of a victory in what will likely be a sprint finish. Stage 3 will travel from Brussels to Spa, where the Ardennes roads would have suited him less; but as a three-time winner of Paris-Roubaix he would have been a big favourite for stage 4, which crosses the cobbles of northern France.
"It’s really a terrible news for us,” said Team Manager Patrick Lefevere. “The Tour passes through the Netherlands and Belgium. The team will ride for four days on the roads near home. Even the stage of Arenberg [stage 4] was very important for us considering the characteristics of our team and the palmares of Boonen on the cobblestones races.
“But we can’t stop, life goes on,” continued Lefevere. “I'm sure the team that will participate in the Tour will do the best even without Tom. The negative moments often open up many opportunities."
Quick Step’s bike sponsor Eddy Merckx will also be disappointed, having recently presented Boonen with one of its first EMX-7 frames, created to commemorate the cycling legend’s 65th birthday. Boonen was to ride the new frame at the Tour.
The Quick Step team will decide which of its two reserves, Kevin Hulsmans and Wouter Weylandt, will replace Boonen after the Belgian Championships this weekend.