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Few know Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara as well as veteran Belgian sport director Dirk Demol.
Demol nurtured Boonen in his U23 years and helped usher him into the pro ranks at U.S. Postal Service in 2002. And since 2012, Demol has been working alongside Cancellara.
Cancellara (Trek – Segafredo) and Boonen (Etixx – Quick-Step) are set to clash one last time in this year’s spring classics, and Demol is relishing the chance to see the two cobblestone specialists wrangle over the pavé. As the two dominant classics riders of their generation, Demol has had an interesting view. When stacked up side-by-side, Demol said the balance tips ever so slightly in favor of Cancellara.
“When you talk about the pure talents, Fabian is even more talented than Tom,” Demol told VeloNews. “They are both super strong, but when you talk about pure talent — and don’t get me wrong, I respect and admire them both — I would give Fabian a little bit more than Tom.”
Demol is hesitant to measure them against each other. It’s like comparing a Ferrari to a Porsche. Both are damn fast and stand above the pack. But Demol has dedicated his entire life to cycling, first as a 14-year pro with a Paris-Roubaix win on his palmares, and now 16 seasons as a sport director. His opinion counts.
“In general, when they do the same training, I believe that Fabian will be a little stronger than Tom,” Demol continued. “When you talk about pure talent, I would give that little bit more to Fabian.”
Once again this spring, Demol will be behind the wheel at Trek – Segafredo in what will be Cancellara’s final stampede across the pavé. Demol admitted he’s relishing a clash between his two star pupils.
“Many people are thinking that Boonen and Cancellara are behind us now, and that’s true that we have a new generation coming up, but they are proud riders. They are not just going to be in the races to wave to the crowds,” Demol said. “This is war, and these guys are warriors.”
Demol said Cancellara’s imminent retirement means the Swiss superstar is motivated to go out on top. He’s already won Strade Bianche and two individual time trials this season as he hits peak form for the spring classics.
“Fabian’s motivation is really high. He didn’t want to quit after a difficult 2015. He wants to perform,” Demol said. “When they are there, they are there to perform. Tom and Fabian are special. They have a lot of respect for each other. They are both great riders.
“I hope they are both there for the classics.”