While everyone’s talking about the pending divorce of Omega Pharma-Lotto, little has been said about the fact that Mr. Tom Boonen’s contract with Quick-Step expires at the end of the 2011 season. Boonen recently announced that he would be riding the Tour and the Vuelta in preparation for a world championship course that suits him immensely. After all, a new rainbow jersey would certainly enhance the fading Belgian star’s marketability or possibly entice a new team to pull the trigger sooner, hoping to get a deal on a rider that might soon become World Champion.
But who might that team be? While the door has presumably been left open for the Belgian to return to Quick-Step, I have a hunch that Boonen will end-up at BMC next season. Here’s why:
1. There’s a vacancy. With the latest round of announcements regarding the Mantova doping ring, Alessandro Ballan is likely headed for a quick exit. 2012 will also be George Hincapie’s final season—possibly just the first half of it—freeing up even more cash for a rider that can command a high salary.
2. BMC has been in the market for a proven classics star since the end of 2010. The squad was one of the teams rumored to have been courting Fabian Cancellara and they’ve also been mentioned as having interest in Philippe Gilbert (although who wouldn’t). Clearly, the money and desire are there. And while Gilbert is the ultimate prize of what could be an interesting market for classic’s stars, Boonen’s worst cobbled campaign is still far better than those of only a handful of riders, making him a more than worthy consolation.
3. The presence of Boonen at BMC would enhance George Hincapie’s chance to win Roubaix in his final try. To anyone watching this year’s race (and maybe the last two or three editions) it’s clear that the window has closed for George to win as a protected team captain. With Boonen garnering most of the competition’s attention, Hincapie could certainly profit from playing the role of a talented, super-domestique—one similar to that played by Johan Vansummeren this year. (And an oft-common Roubaix-winning scenario.)
4. Jim Ochowicz is just “old school” enough not to be worried by Boonen’s antics. It would take more than a little nose candy to scare away a man who’s been around the block as much as Ochowicz has. Cynical yes, but worth mention nonetheless.
5. BMC appears adept at offering new chances to riders seemingly at crossroads in their careers. Before his world title and subsequent move to BMC, Cadel Evans looked to be a rider who just couldn’t get it together to win a big race. Since moving to BMC though, one could argue the past two years have been the best of the Aussie’s career. (Greg Van Avermaet appears headed down a similar path.) After nine years with Patrick Lefevere and Quick-Step, Boonen—who is only 31 next season—would benefit from a change as well.
6. Lastly, Boonen’s presence would offer Taylor Phinney a chance to develop relatively free from pressure while perhaps offering a bit of (I say this with a hint of hesitation) “knowledge” and “expertise” to the young American. At times, Boonen has seemed a bit bored with cycling, perhaps the product of so much success so early in his career. Maybe playing the role of mentor might breathe new life into his career, while offering him a bit of motivation lest he be usurped by his young protégée.
So there you have it—six reasons why I would not be surprised to see Tommeke wearing red and black in 2012. One final disclaimer: this is speculation, not rumor-mongering. I have no inside knowledge to support my claims, just some insights and observations that lead me to believe this is one possible outcome of what is certain to be an exciting transfer period.
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