Omega-Pharma Quickstep’s battered star Tom Boonen is set to ride the Tour of California.
The question is whether the seven day stage race which starts May 12th will be a tour of rejuvenation or possibly a tour of further regression. This being California, it’s always a place for dreams to come true or shatter — that’s just the dominant Hollywood narrative.
He won a stage of the 2008 edition but then two years later Boonen came back to California and the end-result wasn’t pretty. In the final kilometer of stage one from Nevada City to Sacramento, with the top sprinters ramping up the speeds, Boonen went down hard.
He suffered severe abrasions and bruising to his butt and back and he cracked his helmet. Being the classics hardman that he is, he continued the next day but much later he’d admit that his crash in California — along with a few others — had changed his attitude about sprinting.
He began talking about the crazy young guns and called them “cowboys.” (One of those cowboys is Peter Sagan (Cannondale) who will also return to California and the race he essentially owned last year with five stage wins.)
You don’t see Boonen contesting too many bunch sprints these days and while the talk is that he might serve as lead-out man for Mark Cavendish in the Tour, don’t count on it happening. The last thing he needs is getting caught up in that mayhem. Team manager Patrick Lefevere said he won’t force the issue.
However, a week in sunny, laid-back California — thousands of miles from the relentless Belgian press — may be just what the physio ordered. He’s coming back from a cracked rib and a disastrous Spring campaign that saw him crash out of Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem.
The Tour of California is 100% cobble-free. The roads are nice and wide and the weather is terrific and Boonen always gets a big roar from the crowd. It’s a week of quality training, some chill time and a happiness vibe.
In this case, Boonen joins the long-suffering Andy Schleck in California. Two star riders escaping Europe for the awesome-ness of Cali where they can get their heads and bodies back together.
Twisted Spoke would love to buy them both a glass of reserve pinot noir after the final stage ends at Santa Rosa in the wine region of Sonoma. We will hope that Boonen and Schleck arrive in one piece, crash-free and ready to toast.