Name: Tom Boonen
Team: Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Role: Sprinter/Classics specialist
2011 WorldTour ranking: 30
Twitter: @tomboonen (inactive)
- Tour of Qatar: won stage 1
- Gent–Wevelgem: 1st
- Ronde van Vlaanderen: 4th
Why I like him:
Tom Boonen is no longer the fresh-faced youngster that he was when he first burst on to the professional scene with the US Postal Service team in 2002. Nor is he a rider capable of mixing it at the front with the best sprinters as he has done over the last decade, seeing him win six stages of the Tour de France and the green jersey.
However, he’s still only 31 and is more than capable of winning races yet, something he is eager to do after a disappointing 2011. Third place after a heroic ride in his very first Paris-Roubaix ten years ago set the tone for a quite incredible rise to stardom and success, and he’ll be eager to write a happy next chapter in his tumultuous cycling story this year.
Having tested positive for cocaine three times, Boonen is very much the bad boy of professional cycling, but a very likeable one at that. His success, looks and friendly media personality have seen him become the darling of Belgian sport, and a hero to many across the nation. Still one of the best classics riders around having won Gent-Wevelgem last year, he’s hoping for more successes in 2012, having been dogged for a while with a serious knee injury.
“I am on the verge of an important season. I approach it with confidence. I had a good winter and the troubles are now ancient history. For the first time in two years, I was able to train normally and I have rediscovered my strength,” Boonen said at the annual unveiling of the Quick Step team earlier this month – a team with which he has become synonymous.
Having banished his past difficulties as “ancient history”, Boonen is hoping to knock fellow classics specialists Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara off their pedestals come this Spring – a perch from which he was pushed following his last major victory at Paris-Roubaix in 2009. Let’s hope the friendly Belgian can regain his best form in what could be a make-or-break season.
Where to see him in 2012:
Spring Classics, Tour de France, London Olympics (road race), World Championships.