Saturday, 24 March 2012

Boonen passes his Monuments exam

Record fifth win in E3-Prijs Harelbeke for Belgian star

With a record-breaking fifth win at the semi-Classic E3-Prijs Harelbeke, it's clear that popular Belgian rider Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quickstep) is ready for the upcoming two Monuments, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

"This is my exam," Boonen said, and the 31-year-old Belgian clearly passed it. Shortly after capturing a hard-fought victory, a seemingly fresh Boonen talked with the press and explained that the win offers him some peace of mind going into the next important races. "I'm building up toward this time of the year. If you have won a race, it takes away the pressure a bit. I like a big win before Flanders. I am very happy," Boonen said.

Surpassing an illustrious name like Rik Van Looy with his fifth Harelbeke victory clearly made Boonen a proud man on Friday afternoon in sunny Harelbeke. "This has always been a special race for me. I've been on the podium here in the last seven years. After winning four times in a row, everybody waited for number five to come. I'm a happy man. It's my first little record," Boonen said at the post-race press conference.

"I don't know what it is with me and Harelbeke. It's just an important race on the calendar."

That calendar caused a lot of problems for the Belgian race, which was always organized on the Saturday one week before the Tour of Flanders. Last year, the UCI moved Gent-Wevelgem to the Sunday of the same weekend of Harelbeke which resulted in a weaker starting field for the E3-Prijs Harelbeke. Boonen was one of the riders who skipped Harelbeke in order to score in Gent-Wevelgem, also because his Quickstep team was in a huge need of WorldTour points.

This season, the E3-Prijs Harelbeke bumped up to WorldTour status while also moving from Saturday to Friday. "Last year, I was disappointed that I couldn't take the start. I'm glad this race finally got the spot it deserved on the calendar. The course suits me a lot. The hills are close to the finish. At the Tour of Flanders, the climbs used to be far away but here you can make the difference on the climbs and make it to the finish. Back in the old days, I would've finished solo but it's useless to live in the past. I've got some good years left ahead of me so that's what matters," Boonen said.