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Goodbye ‘Tornado’ Tom Boonen!
Tom Boonen Tribute: Tom Boonen was one of the most successful one-day race riders of the modern era and a super-hero in his homeland of Belgium. A star, a charismatic personality who is down to earth and inspirational. Ed hood looks back at the man form Mol's rise to stardom in this tribute to Tommeke.

It’s the Quick-Step pre-Het Nieuwsblad press conference a year or two ago; we’re in a conference room in an 'Any Chain Business Hotel' somewhere in the Flatlands and the coffee is dire. Big boss Patrick Lefevere is trying not to appear bored as Sylvain Chavanel does his best answering half hearted questions from the impatient assembled Belgian journos.


Tommeke can handle the press

The door burst open; in he strides, tall, straight, handsome, grinning, warm, open - whatever ‘star quality’ is, this man has it by the kiloton. His very presence energizes the whole room; he gives Chava a little hug as the Frenchman gratefully hands over the mic to the main attraction. He smiles, jokes but gives serious answers where required; no one has to tell you that this is a special man, a real champion - Tom Boonen.


Especially the Belgian press and TV

In a cycling firmament of 'grey men' he was colorful, cool – and walked the walk; five GP E3, four Paris-Roubaix, three Tours of Flanders, three Gent-Wevelgem, three Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, three Paris-Brussels, two Scheldeprijs two National Championships, a Dwars Door and The Worlds. Ironically the only one of the Cobbled Classics he never triumphed in was the one I mentioned at the start – Het Nieuwsblad.

Gent - Belgie - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2009 - Tom Boonen (Belgie / Team Quick Step - Quickstep) - foto Wessel van keuk/Cor Vos ©2009
A hero in Belgium

There were dozens of stage wins including six in le Tour and two in the Vuelta; there were even stage race wins – the Tours of Belgium, Picardie and Qatar (four times) and the insanely fast World Ports Classics.

Zolder: WK wielrennen op de weg voor Elite,13-10-2002 foto Cor Vos ©2002 Tom Boonen
A young Tom Boonen at the Worlds road race in Zolder

Of course, it wasn’t all ‘ice cream and fairies’ – there were the bad crashes - one of which left him with permanent hearing damage - and brushes with the law over his (+) for cocaine. But let’s not ‘neg’ - this is a celebration, not a ‘warts and all’ analysis.

Parijs-Tours: foto Cor Vos ©2000 Boonen Espoirs
A bright eyed amateur

His earliest 'result of note' was second in the Belgian Novices National Road Race Championship in 1997 behind a certain Gert Steegmans who would become Boonen’s team mate at Quick-Step - and whilst displaying flashes of brilliance would never match Boonen’s successes or consistency.

Hoogvliet - wielrennen -cycling - cyclisme - stockphoto -archiefbeeld - archive - Tom Boonen - foto Cor Vos ©2006
Worlds ITT

In 1998 he took third in the National Junior Time Trial Championships – another Steegmans victory - but it was as a U23 that real success came with stage wins in the 2000 Triptyques des Monts et Chateaux, Ronde van Limburg and Ronde van de Provincie Antwerpen – and a win in the U23 Paris-Tours to really catch the pro team wins.

Parijs-Tours: foto Cor Vos ©2000 Boonen Espoirs
Winning U23 Paris-Tours

In 2000 it was silver in the U23 National Championship behind Andy Cappelle; there was no such mistake one year later and the 2001 gold medal was placed around his neck to go with a raft of Belgian wins and a stage in the GP William Tell in Switzerland.

Sittard, 5e etappe ENECO Tour, foto Cor Vos ©2002 Tom Boonen
Working hard for US Postal in the ENECO Tour

De honderdste editie van Parijs-Roubaix, 14-4-2002 foto Cor Vos ©2002 Tom Boonen
Showing the older guys how to ride the Roubaix cobbles

It was with US Postal he 'signed on the dotted line' - after a stagiaire spot at the end of 2001 - and he quickly repaid their confidence with a brilliant third spot in Paris-Roubaix – a stellar result for a neo-pro.

De honderdste editie van Parijs-Roubaix, 14-4-2002 foto Cor Vos ©2002 Tom Boonen en Wilfried Wesemann
3rd in 2002 Roubaix


Tour of Belgium stage win in 2003 with Quick-Step

The trajectory leveled off somewhat in 2003 with just a Tour of Belgium stage win to write home about – in the colors of the team he would ride the rest of his career with, Quick-Step. The Belgian team having negotiated the rising young star to join them before his time with the US team was out.

Tour of Qatar-Ronde van-wielrennen-cycling-5e etappe Doha Golf Club-Doha Corniche, foto Cor Vos ©2004 Tom Boonen
Bit of a 'mover'

In 2004 Boonen repaid Quick-Step’s boss Lefevere’s faith with wins in the GP E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Scheldeprijs and two Tour de France wins among his 24 successes.

Luik/Liege: Luik-Belgie - Tour de France - TdF - wielrennen - cycling - proloog - start Tom Boonen (Quick Step) - foto Cor Vos ©2004
Tour '04 prologue in Liège

Courchevel -Tour de France 2005 -wielrennen-cycling-cyclisme - 10e etappe - Grenoble-Courchevel - Tom Boonen (Quick Step) op het vliegveld - transfer - verplaatsing - Foto Cor Vos ©2005
Tour transfer reading material

It only got better in 2005, the E3 again, a stunning Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double and a rainbow jersey left us in no doubt as to whom the world’s best bike rider was.

Roubaix-Frankrijk-wielrennen-cycling-cyclisme- Parijs-Roubaix - Paris-Roubaix - Tom Boonen (Quick Step) - Foto Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos©2005
Roubaix '05 - Ahead of Hincapie

Carcassone- Frankrijk - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - Tour de France - 12e etappe Luchon-Carcassone - Tom Boonen (Quick Step) en Robbie McEwen (Lotto Davitamon) - foto Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos ©2006
The World champion at the 2006 Tour de France

- Zwitserland - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - Ronde van Zwitserland - Tour de Suisse 2006 - 4e etappe - Niederbipp - La Chaux-de-Fonds - Nick Nuyens, Paolo Bettini en Tom Boonen (Quick Step) - foto Cor Vos ©2006
Boonen suited the rainbow jersey

In 2006 there was a spell in yellow ‘en France’ another E3, Flanders, the Scheldeprijs and runner-up spot in Paris-Roubaix.

Kuurne - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne - Tom Boonen (Quickstep) - Leif Hoste (Lotto Predictor) - foto Cor Vos ©2007
On the way to winning Kuurne '07

The only problem with palmarès like these is that it is so hard to match them, year on year - and some saw 2007 with 'just' Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, the E3, Dwars Door and two Tour de France stage wins as 'Boonen on the decline'.

Angouleme - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tour de France 18e etappe - Cahors - Angouleme - 24 Bernhard Eisel (Aut-T-Mobile) - 171 Tom Boonen (Bel-Quickstep) - 216 Robert Hunter (Rsa-BarloWorld) - foto Marketa Navratilova/Wessel van Keuk/Cor Vos ©2007
Stage win at the 2007 Tour into Angouleme

Parijs - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tour de France 20e etappe - Marcoussis - Paris Champs-Elysees - 171 Tom Boonen (Bel-Quickstep) - 112 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa-Discovery Channel) - foto Marketa Navratilova/Wessel van Keuk/Cor Vos ©2007
Tour green jersey into Paris next Alberto Contador 2007

His Paris-Roubaix win in 2008 and two Vuelta stages helped allay that fear and in 2009 there were successes at Kuurne, Paris-Roubaix and his National Championships.

Gent - Belgie - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Omloop van het Nieuwsblad - Tom Boonen (Quick Step - Quickstep) - foto Wessel van Keuk/Cor Vos ©2010
Belgian champ in Het Nieuwsblad

Season 2010 was compromised by a knee injury caused by one of the crashes which are an ever present risk for a professional cyclist; despite that he was second in Milan-Sanremo, Flanders and the E3 – what would have been a stellar season for most.

Doha - Qatar - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Ronde van Kater - Tour de Qatar - 3e etappe - Tom Boonen (Quick Step - Quickstep) - foto Cor Vos ©2010
Stage 3 win in Qatar

Harelbeke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - E3 Prijs van Harelbeke 2010 - Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) - Sylvain Chavanel - Tom Boonen (Quick Step - Quickstep) - Lars Boom (Rabobank) - foto Cor Vos ©2010
Boonen on the wheels of teammate Sylvain Chavanel and Fabian Cancellara in the E3 2010

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Paris - Roubaix 2010 - Tom Boonen (Quick Step - Quickstep) - Roger Hammond (Cervelo - foto Wessel van Keuk en Cor Vos ©2010
5th in Roubaix '10 - Behind Cancellara, Hushovd, Flecha and Hammond

The season 2011 was 'quiet' by his standards with Gent-Wevelgem the only major success – was he on the way out? 'Nae, nae, nae,' as the say in the bars in Flanders.


Wevelgem win


On the attack in Roubaix

The following year, 2012 was one of his best ever; the E3, Gent-Wevelgem, another Flanders/Roubaix 'double'. The National Title and the Worlds TTT – stunning! But it was unlucky '13 for the Man from Mol, his season blighted by an infected wound and crashes there were but two minor wins.

Knokke Heist - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Omega Pharma - Quickstep) pictured uring stage two of 84th edition of the Baloise Belgium Tour cycling race, with start in Lierde and finish in Knokke Heist,in Knokke Heist in Belgium - photo LDB/PN/Cor Vos © 2014
Stage win in the Belgium Tour 2014

Harelbeke - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Stijn Vandenberg (Belgium / Team Omega Pharma - Quickstep) - Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium / BMC Racing Team) - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Omega Pharma - Quickstep) - Sep Vanmarcke (Bel - Belkin-Pro Cycling Team) pictured during the 57th E3 Prijs cycling race with start in Harelbeke and finish in Harelbeke on March 28, 2014 in Harelbeke, Belgium - photo VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2014
Fighting for the wheel in the 2014 E3 Harelbeke


Still popular with the fans

In 2014 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne went his way but he was ‘only’ top 10 in Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders and Roubaix but there two were stage wins in the Tour of Belgium.

Geraardsbergen - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Omega Pharma - Quickstep) lost contact on the Bosberg climb pictured during tstage - 5 of the ENECO Tour 2014, a worldtour stage race in the Netherlands and Belgium - photo Cor Vos © 2014
Climbing the Bosberg in the ENECO Tour

Knokke Heist - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Omega Pharma - Quickstep) pictured uring stage two of 84th edition of the Baloise Belgium Tour cycling race, with start in Lierde and finish in Knokke Heist,in Knokke Heist in Belgium - photo LDB/PN/Cor Vos © 2014
Stage win in Knokke Heist - Belgium Tour

In 2015 there was a podium spot in Het Nieuwsblad but no big spring result although he did win stages in the Tour of Belgium and Eneco Tour as well as the semi-classics Rund um Koln and Munsterland Giro, both in Germany. And it was at the end of this season in the Abu Dhabi Tour where Boonen was involved in the crash which still affects his hearing.

Sint Pieters Leeuw - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - crash Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during Eneco Tour stage -4 - UCI World Tour) from Aalter to Sint Pieters Leeuw - photo Davy Rietbergen/Cor Vos © 2016 motard Kenny Verfaillie
There have been a few crashes during his career

Gent - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Niki Terpstra (Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Tom Boonen (Team Etixx - Quick Step) Vandenberg Stijn (Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Stannard Ian (Team Sky)pictured during the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015 - photo VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
Terpstra, Boonen and Vandenberg - Stannard won the 2015 Het Nieuwsblad against the odds

Knokke-Heist - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Team Etixx - Quick Step) wins the sprint in front of Demare Arnaud (Team FDJ) and Jens Debusschere (Team Lotto Soudal) pictured during stage 2 of 85th edition of the Baloise Belgium Tour cycling race from Lochristi to Knokke-Heist - photo NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
Another Belgium Tour win in 2015

Herentals - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Team Etixx - Quick Step) leaves, along with girlfriend Lorre, the hospital AZ Elisabeth in Herentals after the surgery on his shoulder - photo PN/Cor Vos © 2015
A shoulder operation in 2015

Last year it was only the ride of Matt Hayman’s life which prevented Boonen from winning Paris-Roubaix for the fifth time, there were wins in the London and Brussels Classics and a bronze medal behind Sagan and Cavendish in those mad 'Desert Worlds'.

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Hayman Mathew (Australia / Team Orica Greenedge) - Boonen Tom (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) - Vanmarcke Sep (Belgium / Team LottoNL - Jumbo) pictured during Paris - Roubaix 2016 World Tour Cycling race - photo Marketa Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2016
2nd to Hayman in 2016 Roubaix

Hamme Zogge - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during Derny Criterium in Hamme Zogge - photo Cor Vos © 2016
Winning the Hamme Zogge Derny event 2016

Doha - Qatar - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Sagan Peter (Slowakia / Team Tinkoff - Tinkov) - Cavendish Mark (GBR / Team Dimension Data) -Boonen Tom (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during the Road Race men of the UCI Road World Championships 2016 in Qatar - photo Anton Vos/Cor Vos © 2016
3rd behind Sagan and Cavendish in the Worlds

Brussels - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during the finish of the 4th edition of BCC Brussels Cycling Classic 2016 (199 kms) also known as Paris - Brussels on September 03, 2016 in Brussels, Belgium - photo VK/PN/Cor Vos © 2016
Celebrations at the Brussels Cycling Classic

This season started in fine style with a stage win in San Juan then eighth in his beloved E3 and sixth in Gent-Wevelgem. He was in the thick of the action in Flanders but a disastrous double bike change after his chain stuck between his chainrings effectively scuppered his chances.

Oudenaarde - Belgium - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tom BOONEN (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) mechanical problems - Tom Steels pictured during the of Flanders Classics UCI WorldTour 101st Ronde van Vlaanderen cycling race with start in Antwerpen and finish in Oudenaarde on April 02, 2017 - foto PDV/PN/Cor Vos © 2017
Bad luck in 2017 De Ronde van Vlaanderen

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tom BOONEN (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) pictured during the 115th Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT) - foto NV/PN/Cor Vos © 017
The last race and the last Roubaix

Paris-Roubaix was to be his last race, win or lose. He lost; on a dry, warm, tail wind assisted, record breaking day not suited to aging war horses; 13th and hardly disgraced - there are few ‘fairy tale endings’ to professional careers.

Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Tom BOONEN (Belgium / Team Quick Step - Floors) pictured during the 115th Paris-Roubaix (1.UWT) - foto Davy Rietbergen/Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 017
13th in the 2017 Paris-Roubaix

In a televised interview before Roubaix he reminded us that whilst many riders assert they’ll quit before ‘they’re over the hill’ and ride the dreaded ‘one season too many’ - Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx and even Kelly were all guilty of this – few actually do, but he would not, rather joining Hinault and Cancellara as men who quit when still at the top of their trade.

Spa Francorchamps - BELGIUM - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Omega Pharma Quick Step cyclists Tom Boonen and Niki Terpstra are racing in Boonen his Ferrari F360 at the Spa Francorchamps track. His Ferrari is painted by flemish artist Jeroom. Boonen and Terpstra are participating at the Trackdays, organized by Skylimit Events in Francorchamps, Belgium, on April 17, 2014 - photo KB/PN/Cor Vos © 2014
Boonen will be free for a bit more motor sport from now on

The future? He’s said he’d like to ‘do a Chris Hoy’ and go into motor sport; he’s a natural for TV punditry and bike ‘brand ambassadorships’ – whichever path he chooses there’s little doubt he’ll be successful.


What next for Tommeke - Brand ambassador?

‘Tornado’ Tom Boonen, charismatic Cobbled Classics King, World Champion, gentleman, star we’ll miss you, sir!

Calpe - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Tom Boonen (Belgium / Team Etixx - Quick Step) pictured during a short morning training session, part of the media presentation of the Etixx - Quickstep cycling team 2016 in Calpe, Spain. - photo NV/PN/Cor Vos © 2015
Spring training camps in Calpe will never be the same again




It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,400 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

 

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