Boonen to skip Tour to prepare for the Games: will he spoil Cav’s party?

Good news and bad news for Mark Cavendish to contemplate on his Giro rest day.

A scene to be repeated in London?

First the good news: a third stage win, obtained in the most thrilling fashion after he was almost forced into the barriers in the closing metres of the thirteenth stage from Savona to Cervere.

The sight of Team Sky simply outmuscling Saxo Bank at full gas, Juan Antonio Flecha putting in a monstrous turn, Thomas pulling ‘lead out man’ from an impressive quiver of talents, any one of which would gain him a place at cycling’s top table, was perhaps the most complete demonstration so far of the ‘business as usual’ philosophy Cavendish has brought from HTC-Highroad.

The bad news: Tom Boonen has announced he will miss the Tour de France to prepare for the Olympics. “I’m really focused on the Olympics and my race and training program revolves around it,” the Belgian said.

Ruing two missed Olympic opportunities, Boonen is determined to give the 2012 title his best effort, and will head to the Tour of Poland instead of the world’s biggest bike race this summer.

Boonen, lest we forget, is a rider who knows a thing or two about winning grueling one day races and in 2012 has shown his best ever form. A record-breaking fifth victory at E3 Harelbeke, a record-equaling fourth victory at Roubaix, a record-equaling third victory at Flanders, a third victory at Gent-Wevelgem, a second Ronde-Roubaix double…it’s quicker to list the Classics he hasn’t won this year.

Selection pending, his Belgian team could include countrymen Gilbert, Steegmans,Vanendert, Van Avermaet, and Vansummeren

Forewarned is forearmed, however, and Cavendish is more than aware of the threat to his ambitions posed by Boonen. When RCUK caught up with him in April, we asked who had impressed him most this year and his answer was emphatic.

Hope lies in Boonen’s absence from the Ardennes Classics. Officially nursing an injured foot, it’s debatable whether his presence at the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche, or Liege would have yielded a first victory in any of the three, even during a season as outstanding as this.

Even in superb condition, Boonen’s natural bulk prevents him from shining when the road goes skywards. While Cavendish shares the Belgian’s vulnerability on hills, even Boonen cannot compete with the Manxman in the sprint.

Significantly, Boonen’s announcement reveals the appeal of the Olympics to riders beyond its host nation. Cavendish’s attempts to explain the relative prestige of an Olympic triumph among cycling’s biggest prizes to the mainstream media have always stressed the personal significance of a home Games. Boonen’s ambitions suggest an Olympic title is valued even by those with multiple monument victories.

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