Ladies, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but here it is: Tom Boonen is off the market again. That's right, stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, and hark the sound of breaking hearts, for "Tommeke" is a kept man once more.
This time it's not even some silly schoolgirl, er, I mean schoolboy fling, either; according to his mum's blog page, Boonen is back with long-term squeeze Lore Van de Weyer, fifteen months after they announced their separation via a press release in December 2006.
Given that media intrusion is one of things which scuppered them the first time around – or at least so say my sources – it's no surprise that Boonen has appealed to the press for more privacy this time around. That's fine, Tom, but what interests me and the rest of the cycling press more is why you're no longer winning; what are we read to read into the fact that you haven't bagged a big one – not a Harelbeke or a Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, but a real Classic – since, well, since when you and Lore were last together, way back in 2006?
I'm also intrigued by whether romance or lack of it has any impact on Boonen's or indeed any other rider's performances. The question is especially topical when you consider that the Belgian press were quick to link Philippe Gilbert's stonking performances in February and March to a newly-bloomed liaison. Or that a Belgian TV channel recently eeked a full one-hour documentary out of fireworks in Frank Vandenbroucke's lovelife over one week at the 1999 Vuelta.
Maybe it's just a Belgian thing. But then again maybe it isn't. The VDB doc was actually riveting, and made a genuinely strong case for the performance enhancing effects of all things amour. Yeah, I know what you'll say – an Italian brunette won't have been the only thing giving Frankie wings that week, and I'm sure you're right – but it's still curious that the most jaw-dropping performances of VDB's career, and I'd argue some of the most jaw-dropping cycling has ever seen, should coincide with him getting hit by the love stick.
As I'm writing this, it's all starting to make sense. I'm thinking Gianni Bugno binning his wife in 1993 and suddenly developing the reverse Midas. I'm thinking Lance and Kristin Armstrong heading for Splitsville in 2003 and LA barely scraping through that year's Tour, only to dominate again shortly after hooking up Sheryl Crow a year later. I'm thinking "Kaiser" Ullrich stepping out with Sarah "Steini's sister" Steinhauser in 2005…no, actually, forget that last one.
Anyway, the question is, how does Boonen fit into all of this? Is it just a matter of time before he's Lore-ding it over the opposition again, or is even she powerless to arrest a decline whose origins lie elsewhere? "Stijn Devolder's win in Flanders has taken the focus off Boonen, but if Tom doesn't win Roubaix the Belgian press will bury him," one Flandrian journo told me this morning.
My hunch is that the others have others have just raised their game. Three years ago, when Tornado Tom was winning Flanders and Roubaix in the same week, one generation of Classics maestros was winding down while another one was still ordering off the kids' menu. Now Cancellara, Pozzato, Gilbert, Nuyens, Ballan and the gang are all grown up enough to bite off adult portions of Classic; which is, of course, no guarantee that they will beat Boonen on the cobbles this weekend.
What I do know for certain is that Boonen desperately needs to end this drought, not so much for his fans and the media as for himself and his own confidence. His mum reckons that "with Lore in our team, we're even stronger". Now "Tommeke" needs to prove that's indeed the case.