Tornado Tom - The Whirlwind Career of Tom Boonen

By The Way - Weekly Columns


On the 9th April 2017, Tom Boonen crossed a finish line as a professional cyclist for the final time. A 13th place finish in Paris Roubaix, the race that helped make his career, a fitting end to the career of one of the greatest One Day cyclists to ever ride a bike. Here we take a look back at the career of Tornado Tom.

Since his birth in Mol in Belgium in 1980, Boonen had been working towards being a professional cyclist, a goal that was reached when he signed for the US Postal Service team in 2002. He would make an immediate bang when riding in his first Paris Roubaix, finishing behind his hero Johan Museeuw who was winning his third Roubaix title. In a post race interview, Museeuw declared Boonen his successor.

He would leave US Postal Service due to a lack of leadership opportunities and head to Quick-Step-Davitamon. A disappointing 2003 was followed up with a sign of things to come in 2014 when he won E3 Prijs-Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and Schelderprijs. He would go on to win the Paris finale of the Tour de France, emulating his hero Museeuw, to take his second stage of that years Tour.

Having already showed his potential, Boonen would top all his achievements to date in the 2005 Tour of Flanders. He made the selection and despite being the strongest sprinter in the final group, attacked a few kilometres from the finish and soloed to his first Monument. It wouldn’t be long before he added to his Monument tally, a week later he entered the Roubaix velodrome with Juan Antonio Flecha and George Hincapie, waiting until the final moment before unleashing his lightning sprint to seal a first Roubaix title.

2005 would go from fantastic to sensational in the second half of the year, another 2 stage wins and a stint in the green jersey before he retired after stage 11 with an injury. Next Boonen headed to Madrid and the World Championships. After 273km, a reduced bunch would contest the sprint, Boonen popped out of the pack and eased past Alejandro Valverde and held off Anthony Geslin to take the Rainbow jersey, the 21st Belgian to wear the jersey and the first since Museeuw in 1996. Boonen would finish 2nd in the UCI ProTour rankings and take home numerous end of year awards including the Velo d’Or and Belgian Sports Personality of the Year.

Boonen would return to Flanders in 2006 as favourite. From a group of 32, Leif Hoste launched his attack and Boonen was the only man who could stay with him, managing to hang on on the gruelling Muur van Geraardsbergen before easily outsprinting his compatriot to retain his title. Boonen would head to Roubaix next looking to complete a famous double double and retain his title, isolated and under attack, he couldn't follow as Fabian Cancellara soloed to victory by over a minute, Boonen finished in 5th place but he would be promoted to 2nd after those placed 2nd-4th were disqualified for riding through a closed level crossing.

Claiming to be the strongest and smartest sprinter before the start of the Tour de France, Boonen would have a torrid time. Robbie McEwan and Oscar Freire would mop up all the sprints and Boonen retired on stage 15 empty handed. He would win 3 stages of the Eneco Tour but was unable to retain his rainbow jersey on a hilly course in Salzburg, finishing 9th.

Boonen came out firing in 2007 at the Tour of Qatar, winning 5 stages and finishing 2nd in the GC. In preparation for Flanders and Roubaix, Boonen won Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and E3 and claimed 3rd in Milan-San Remo. That would unfortunately be Boonen’s best result in the monuments that year, a fall in Flanders meant he couldn’t respond to the attacks and he would have to settle for 6th in Roubaix.

He would get back to winning ways at the Tour De France in the absence of Robbie McEwan and Alessandro Petacchi, taking 2 stages and wearing the Green Jersey in Paris as winner of the points classification, the first Belgian to win it in 19 years.

Back at the Tour of Qatar in 2008 and dominating again, Boonen took 4 stages as well as the GC and points classification. He would ride defensively in Flanders when teammate Stijn Devolder rode away to win solo but he would be back to his best a week later as he outsprinted rival Cancellara and Alessandro Ballan in the velodrome to take a second Roubaix title.