Boonen wins Tour de Wallonie stage 1
A fantastic sprint helped the 35-year-old take his first victory of the season, less than 24 hours after extending his contract with the team.
Tom Boonen is back to winning ways, following a thrilling uphill finish on the inaugural day of the Tour de Wallonie, where he displayed his power and motivation which made him throughout the years the rider he is today. Supported by a very strong squad – which worked at the front of the peloton to control the three-man break and bring it back before the finish in Mettet – the seven-time Monument winner showed a huge turn of speed on the uphill drag, breezing past Jonas Vangenechten (IAM Cycling) and Arnaud Démare (FDJ).
Tour de Wallonie, a race created back in 1974, witnessed two other successes of Boonen in the past (2008 and 2013), but this one can be viewed as the most special of the three. Not only that it helped Tom break the ice in the 2016 season, but it also marked the start of what will be his final months in the peloton. On Friday, the 35-year-old resigned with Etixx – Quick-Step for 2017, agreeing on a contract that will see him ride in the bunch until Paris-Roubaix, a race with which he identified since his debut in the pro ranks.
By taking the win – his 118th since joining the team managed by Patrick Lefevere – Tom Boonen became the first leader of the overall and points classification, ahead of Vangenechten and Vyacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha). His teammate, Matteo Trentin, is also in the top 10, after getting involved in the sprint, these two results helping Etixx – Quick-Step take command in the team classification.
"Today's goal was to try and go for the sprint. The finale was difficult, so I decided to go without a train and make my own sprint. The guys controlled and caught the break with 10 kilometers left and in the closing part, a difficult one as the road was rising, I opened my sprint with 250 meters left and then was able to accelerate again", Tom said after his win in Mottet. "It's a nice way to celebrate my contract extension. In the past weeks I thought a lot about my future and when I decided to stop after next year's Roubaix I came to peace with myself. I feel things are now in the right place, so I'm much more relaxed. From this point on, I will just try to enjoy and make the most out of the last part of my career."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele