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After almost three months of continual racing, Tom Boonen is finally having a very well-deserved break after ending his spring campaign with yet another victory, this time in the Grote Scheldeprijs, writes Susanne Horsdal.
But it wasn't until Tuesday evening, when he and the team-mates were celebrating Kevin Hulsmans' birthday and drinking beer in the team hotel that he found the motivation to race hard one more time.
"On Monday and Tuesday I was dead, I had no motivation at all, but in the hotel we said to each other: 'OK, we'll go full gas one more time.' It was the booze that did it," explained Boonen with a smile after his latest victory.
The backdrop for his victory was his home area near Antwerp. After 20 kilometres, a 23-man breakaway formed and, in contrast to last Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, Boonen was had so many team-mates (only one was missing) that anything but victory would have been a sensation - a fact he was fully aware of.
"Everybody saw me winning at least a 100k's from the finish. I just couldn't afford to fail. But it's hard to win a bike race, and sometimes that's difficult for the spectators to understand. That's my problem, I make it seem easy," said the world champion, who was set up perfectly for the sprint in the Scheldeprijs by team-mate Steven de Jongh. The pair finished 1-2, with Davitamon's Gert Steegmans third.
Since the Belgian opened his season on January 27, winning the Doha International, he's taken no less than 13 victories, including the Tour of Flanders, thus living fully up to the enormous pressure he's been under.
"I used to wish I could sometimes race without any pressure, but I'm past that point. I've gotten used to the pressure. When I start racing again in the Tour of Belgium - after a 40-day racing break - people will expect me to win straight away. If I take it easy the first week the press will immediately start asking what's wrong," explained Boonen, who'll now go on holiday and have a 10-day break from his bike.
"I could probably go on for one more week, but my biological clock says stop and it's been a perfect spring for me," Boonen added.
His next big objective will be the Tour de France where he's aiming at stage victories and the green jersey in competition with the world's other leading sprinters, including Alessandro Petacchi - someone who's obviously on his mind.
"Every time I take the race into my own hands and take responsibility, I succeed. Every time I look at another guy, I fail. The best example is Petacchi. He's the only guy who gets me in a situation like that and every time I lose I say to myself: 'You dumb ass,'," explained Boonen in his usual frank manner. No wonder he's popular - and not only for his incredible riding skills.
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