Tom Boonen: When you sprint for the title, only victory counts

Belgium made the race on Sunday afternoon as soon as the peloton hit a crosswinds section of the Qatari desert, splitting the bunch and dropping a considerable number of sprinters together with their teammates.

With 150 kilometers to go, the front group contained only 26 riders, Belgium and Italy having numerical advantage, which they put to work to increase the gap to two minutes before hitting the 15.2km-long Pearl circuit, that was set to be covered seven times.

It all stayed together there until the final lap, when both Niki Terpstra and Tom Leezer put in solo attacks, the latter launching his attack inside the last two kilometers, before getting caught with just 700 meters to go. In the slightly uphill finale, it was every man for himself and Tom Boonen notched the bronze medal after putting in a solid sprint and concluding the race just behind reigning champion Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish.

“I would have preferred to win the race, but things are as they are, so congrats to Peter. I think we tried everything that was possible, took control of the race after 75 kilometers, had an important role again at the Worlds, just like in the previous years, and I’m really proud of my teammates”, said Tom Boonen, only the second rider in history to take medals at the World Championships in a time span of 11 years.

The 36-year-old Belgian, winner of the rainbow jersey in Madrid and now the oldest rider to podium at the Worlds in the past decade, continued: “We had two tactics today: to get Greg cover the big attacks and to play my card in the sprint. When Leezer went, it was only me and Jurgen left at the front and he had to go full gas to catch him. At that point, I already knew it was going to be difficult, and then, when an Italian guy passed me, I felt I had a chance and tried to surprise my opponents, starting my sprint with 200 meters to go, but with guys like Sagan and Cavendish in your wheel is difficult to make it. I came close of taking the win and can say that I’m happy with the performance of the team.”

“Disappointment prevails. In the last two kilometers, only Jürgen Roelandts and I controlled the race. Our team has done a lot of work and took the race in hands like we wanted. We enjoyed it. The last laps were long and this locked up the race. Everyone was shattered by the echelons.

”In the sprint, I went at the right time, maybe too early in retrospect. But this third place was the maximum.

“If I had had one more teammate in the finale, I would have sprinted for first place. We misjudged Leezer.  We tried to control the race in the last two kilometres but you pay for these efforts so we had to make sure that we did not go too far into the red.

“Now my chain even jumped 30 to 40 meters from the finish. That I still finished third? That does not count. If you can win a Worlds race in a sprint, you just want to win.

“It was extremely hot. I am therefore particularly pleased that the race is over. Bronze does not count, though I’m glad I’m third and not fourth. But I just wanted to win the sprint.

”Sagan won some races but not all. No one is invincible. I could have won. Third is a good result but I could have done better. In such a sprint, you can both win and lose. I am especially happy not to finish fourth.

”I missed a man in the final. At the red kite, I found myself in second and it got complicated. Jurgen Roelandts chased behind Leezer because he was stronger than expected, but I found myself alone for the sprint. The Italian train overtook me, I started but I had the misfortune of having Sagan and Cavendish in the wheel. But hey, it’s like that, we cannot change the result.

“We assumed our responsibilities.  Between kilometer 75-135, we made the race. Everyone knew the course and direction of the wind. We just turned a little to the west. We tried in Lusail after 30km but the wind was from the front and in the absence of support we sat up. Already there, it was very long to the finish. The last hour of the race was not necessary.

“Everyone was afraid but it was a foregone conclusion. It was decided by the physical shape. It’s complicated to make it into the first echelon, only the bigger engines are in front. By analyzing the starters, many have built their group for the sprinters. This is possible in the Tour of Qatar where the WorldTour teams are more balanced but with the nations it is complicated.”