PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Tom Boonen was the centre of attention in Quick Step's pre-Tour press conference, where a strong contingent of Belgian journalists were eager to find out whether the 24 year old can improve on his haul of two stage wins at last year's race - and whether he can raise his game enough to compete for the green jersey of best sprinter. The young Belgian sees last year's green jersey winner Robbie McEwen as his main rival, but also named Tour first-timer Alejandro Valverde as a possible contender.
"I'll be trying to win a stage as soon as possible, and only then will I be looking at trying to take the green jersey," admitted Boonen. "My main rival will be McEwen, who has a good sprinting technique, and is always up there. He's the main threat for the green jersey. And Valverde will also be one to watch as he goes OK in the mountains as well as in the rolling stages, so he'll be able to constantly pick up points."
Having won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix Classics earlier this season, Boonen has shown how diverse a talent he is, and has named the road race world championship in Madrid later this season as one of his goals. But, given the choice, which jersey would he rather win: the Tour's green jersey or the rainbow jersey of world champion?
"It's difficult to make any kind of comparison," replied Boonen. "For the Worlds you get to wear the jersey for the whole year, whereas for the green jersey it's just the three weeks of the Tour. But green is proof of your consistency as the best sprinter at the Tour, whereas the Worlds is just about the winner on that one day."
At only his second Tour de France, Boonen admits that he did well winning two stages on his debut. "This year's Tour will be different in that last year I came here having won a lot more races, so I was full of confidence. I need to be going well to win a stage, and I know that it will be difficult to take the green jersey."
And this year's race will be different to last year's, and many of the previous years' Tours, in that the long opening time trial stage means that the sprinters will be unlikely to be in contention for the yellow jersey in the coming days, having lost too much time.
"The bonus times on the following stages will not be so important, but nothing will change in terms of trying to win the sprint at the end of each stage," said Boonen. "The Tour starts for me on Sunday - not on Saturday."
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM