The two multiple Monument winners are looking with optimism to Sunday's challenge, their last race together.
Antwerp played host Friday afternoon to Quick-Step Floors' pre-Ronde van Vlaanderen press conference, which took place on a boat docked in the city's port, one of the largest and most important in Europe. Tom Boonen, Philippe Gilbert, Iljo Keisse, Yves Lampaert, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Julien Vermote, together with Patrick Lefevere, the team's CEO, welcomed the media to share their impressions and thoughts ahead of the 101st edition of Vlaanderens Moiste.
For Tom Boonen, this will be his final participation at De Ronde, a race on which he left an indelible mark ever since his first win, as a 24-year-old, back in 2005. Since then, he racked up two more triumphs, each memorable in its own way, joining the elite club of riders who took three victories at the race which many consider to be the most difficult in the world.
"I had a little bit of misfortune in February, crashing and then being sick, but that was the only setback. I had some good results in E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem, my shape is improving, so we'll just see how things will unfold. I can't say I'm emotional yet and not even nervous, because the pressure is always the same ahead of these races, but what I can say is that I'm confident in my shape", said Tom Boonen.
Since the course of De Ronde was changed five years ago, the race became more tactical, as most teams and contenders build their strategy around the Oude Kwaremont – Paterberg circuit, but Tom reaffirmed again Quick-Step Floors' intention of racing aggressively: "I know that everyone is thinking of the final combo of Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, because they are keeping their powder dry for these climbs, but we are a team who always opens the races and tries to make them hard, so that's what will do on Sunday."
Fresh off his Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, Philippe Gilbert will be one of the team's leaders at the race which he finished on the podium twice in the past. The 34-year-old Belgian Champion, who will be making his first outing at Ronde van Vlaanderen since 2012, is brimming with confidence ahead of his 25th career start in a Monument.
"I feel strong and happy to be in form for De Ronde. I know these roads since my days in the youth categories and I like the climbs because they are explosive. Maybe I didn't get many wins on the cobbles, but I was always there, fighting for a good result. I am motivated, but I'm also aware of the fact that a lot of things can influence the race, from the weather and wind to the proverbial luck you need", said Philippe, who also named the top three favourites for the race: "Van Avermaet, Sagan and the whole Quick-Step Floors team. We always have many cards that we can play, that's why we're winning so much."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele