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Quick Step-Innergetic's Tom Boonen has stated all season that, despite a successful Tour debut last year, when he took two stage victories, he was coming to the race this year with the same goal: stage wins, with the hunt for the green jersey very much secondary. But with Sunday's stage two victory ahead of Thor Hushovd (Crdit Agricole) and Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto), he has already taken the green jersey, and the Belgian admits that he is now looking ahead to holding on to it all the way to the finish in Paris on July 24.
"I had one objective at the start: to win a stage," Boonen confirmed. "I hope to win others, but now, with the green jersey, we'll have to see what happens. Robbie will be going for the points at the intermediate sprints and for the points at the finishes, but I'd prefer not to have to take part in all those intermediate sprints, as it means I have to sprint five or six times a day. But I need to go for all the points I can in this first week to try to get a comfortable advantage to be able to hold on to the jersey.
"It was very important to have won today, of course. If I hadn't, everyone would have asked me why I hadn't," the 24 year old said with a knowing smile. "So now I hope to keep the green jersey for as long as possible, and hopefully I'll still have it in Paris."
Boonen paid tribute to his Quick Step team-mates, and in particular to his two lead-out men - "It's always better to have two than one" - Stefano Zanini and Guido Trenti.
"It's very important to have a good lead-out man," said Boonen. "Today I let the others do all the work on the front, and just stayed back in around 15th place with Guido. In the closing stages, Stefano took me to the front, and then Guido took over in the last kilometre. I opened the sprint at the right time, and it was no problem."
Third-placed McEwen told journalists that he thought that he had started his sprint too early. "I started my sprint at the same moment as Robbie, and it wasn't a problem," Boonen repeated. "I was on Jaan Kirsipuu's wheel, and Robbie went on the right. I think I was two gears higher than Robbie, but maybe he'll win tomorrow, eh?"
Like last year, Boonen has so far had a fantastic season, which has included wins at arguably the two biggest Classics: Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. But is he a Classics rider or a sprinter?
"I've already been asked that question about 100 times!" said Boonen, smiling again. "I think I can be both. But in the Classics I was super, while I'm not going as well now. But I'm still good enough to compete here with the other best sprinters in the world.
"I actually didn't feel too good today. But sometimes you feel like you're dying on the bike, and then you're able to win the sprint. Sprinters are strange guys!" he concluding, still grinning.
He's certainly doing OK so far, but almost didn't take to the Tour start line at all on Saturday afternoon, suffering from toothache that morning. "It was very bad yesterday," confirmed Boonen. "It wouldn't have been possible to ride as I had such a headache, but we found a dentist and he sorted it out. I just hope I don't have any further complications."
You could say he's now got the bit between his teeth.
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