Belgium's one-day race king Tom Boonen has pledged to get back to winning ways on his beloved cobbled classics following a heartening second place finish in Milan-San Remo on Saturday.
Last year the second half of Boonen's campaign was compromised following a career-threatening second positive test for cocaine, but this season the big Quick Step rider, a world champion in 2005, appears reborn.
Looking fit, trim and ready to challenge for top honours again, Boonen, however, had to settle for second best in Saturday's 298km epic as Spanish ace Oscar Freire picked up his third victory at San Remo.
It was Boonen's eighth participation, and best result at Italy's biggest one-day race and still left him hungry.
"To win Milan-San Remo you need a lot experience because you've got to know how to stay cool throughout the race," said Boonen. "I'm 29 and I'll try again next year. (Mario) Cipollini won after 14 years, right? This is my eighth edition, I've still got time.
"Perhaps winning my last ever San Remo would be the best thing ever but I'll try next year for sure."
Boonen's result behind one of the best, and most cunning, sprinters in the world in Freire has however served as a signal to his rivals for the upcoming series of classics and semi-classics that he is on form. And the Belgian will likely be far harder on himself in the coming weeks.
First up is Dwars door Vlaanderen on Wednesday, a 200km race he won in 2007 and finished third in last year and which heralds the start of a series of races in which treacherous cobbled section pepper the course.
Three days later Boonen will return to the E3 Prijs Harelbeke hoping for a fifth victory, three years after winning his fourth consecutive title in the Belgian semi-classic, and a year after finishing second to Italian Filippo Pozzato.
The following weekend, on April 4, the racing gets even tougher at the Tour of Flanders - like Milan-SanRemo and the following week's Paris-Roubaix one of the five cycling one-day 'Monuments'.
"Now it's time for my northern Classics, starting virtually right away, this Wednesday," added Boonen after his SanRemo result. "This race has proved my form is good and I'll be giving everything for both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix."
Boonen has won Paris-Roubaix - known ominously as the 'Hell of the North' - three times (2005, 2008, 2009), and the Tour of Flanders twice, in 2005 and 2006.
© AFP 2010