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If things had gone to plan Tom Boonen would have ended his pro career with victory in Paris-Roubaix but, weeks later, he was able to make do with rolling across the finish line, arms aloft, at the ‘Tom Says Thanks’ event.
Taking place in from of an estimated 20,000 spectators in his hometown of Mol in Belgium on Saturday, the day was one last chance for his many fans to see him in action, and also to see some of the stars of peloton current and past racing.
The start list included several of his QuickStep Floors teammates, as well as world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe), former champions Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) and Philippe Gilbert (QuickStep Floors), Marcel Kittel (QuickStep Floors), Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina – Selle Italia) and young Belgian hope Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal).
The older riders in action included his former teammate Johan Museeuw, a rider who helped shaped Boonen’s career by giving him guidance early on. Another rainbow jersey, Oscar Freire, was there, as were Nick Nuyens, Gert Steegmans, Tom Steels, Matteo Tosatto, Peter Van Petegem, Johan Vansummeren, Erik Zabel, Stefano Zanini, Alessandro Ballan, Marco Bandiera, Wilfried Cretskens, Kevin De Weert and Kevin Hulsmans.
They scrapped it out over 15 laps of a 1.8 kilometre course. Museeuw pipped Zabel, for the win, with past world champion Alessandro Ballan third.
The atmosphere was further amped up by the race announcer, who introduced Boonen and the big names to the crowd and encouraged the fans to show their appreciation for his career.
It was perhaps inevitable that Boonen would win in his final-ever race, but the action was hectic throughout. After his father André waved the start flag, multiple attack were fired off and a breakaway was soon established. This included riders such as Petr Vakoc, Jürgen Roelandts, Kenny Dehaes and Pieter Serry, but Sagan drove hard to haul them back.
This was followed by a QuickStep move by Boonen and Gilbert, but the Belgians were recaptured. Boonen tried again with Maarten Wynants and when this was unsuccessful, a quintet was established.
It was sparked off by Gilbert, with Sagan, Kittel, Pozzato and Boonen joining up. Boonen jumped clear from this group and reached the line first, with Sagan, Kittel, Gilbert and Pozzato finishing in that order.
“It was awkward today in the final kilometres, when I became aware that one important chapter of my career is coming to an end,” said Boonen. “I was relaxed and tried to enjoy every moment as much as possible, in front of this fantastic crowd.
“I want to thank the fans and all the riders who came today, together they made this day really special.”
Boonen may be giving up his racing wheels, but will soon take on some more. He is keen on taking up a career as a racing car driver and was given a helmet decorated with the words ‘King Boonen’ by his teammates as a symbolic gesture.