NEVADA CITY, CA - MAY 16: Tom Boonen of Belgium of Team Quickstep rides to the start of stage one of the Tour of California on May 16, 2010 in Nevada City, California. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Admit it. The other day when the VDS competition was opened it was like Christmas morning as you opened the rider price list. There you were, slowly going down the list from expensive to cheap, hoping that you'd find your favorites at a great price. You started at the top, trying to guess if Phil-Gil was worth 36 points. Certainly-if he has another season like last season; but can he repeat that? Hmm.
Moving down, you saw Bert at 30 and mentally put that away until you heard the ruling. J-Rod, Cance, and the Tour winner at 26? Interesting...Manx Missile at 22? Seems a bit high but if he ever puts a complete season, it could be worth it....Whoa! Green Bullet at 22 too? (All sorts of visceral reactions to that one from Get That $#^%@#er Out Of My VDS! to There's My Captain!
By now in the back of your mind there's this vague notion that Someone Is Missing but the list is so interesting you can't yet ID who...Two kids at 20...clearly the VDS Eds want me to pay through the nose....18 pointers all sort of similar...Someone's Definitely Missing...16..Schlecks, Big Bird, Bobo, The Testosterone Tootise..14....Greipel, eh? WHAT THE HELL WHERE IS HE WHERE IS MY MAN WHERE OH GOD IS HE DEAD I CAN'T BREATHE I HAVE HIVES DOES LORE KNOW DOES SHE I HAVE TO HIT VIEW ALL ONLY BAD RIDERS NEED VIEW ALL GGGGGGGGGGGAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH...12 points and then you see it, right below Jurgen Roelandts and on top of the Little Bald Nugget:
Stop! VDS has now Officially and Successfully divided the world into two parts: those who can't believe that the Ed's are that freakishly stupid and those who had none of the above reactions and calmly moved onto Nugget where they thought they saw a big bargain there. I leave it to you to decide which part is the better. I know which one is the more popular.
I don't think I am giving anything away in saying that Tornado Tom is so far one of the most popular picks so far. Nor would it be surprising to read that Tommeke is the most popular rider pick in the history of VDS. Only one year-2009-was he not one of the most popular picks and you could explain that by noting that a double Grand Tour winner from the year before was priced only five points more. Even that year he totally won the popularity contest against the likes of Cancellara, Evans, Oscarito, etc, etc. etc.
As you probably know, the prices of the riders reflect in part their popularity. New guys like EBH and Sagan get a youth surcharge for instance cause everyone loves the new kids. Since 2008, Boonen's price has been 25, 20, 22, and 20. So WTF is up with the 12 points this year? Below I make the case that he's the biggest bargain since sliced bread or yet another dumb pick for suckers who for some reason are partial to a totally forgettable small flattish country with no hills worthy of a name. (Ursula moves away from any windows lest the Belgian mafia decide to take him out.)
The Case For Picking Tom (as if you needed a case)
The guy is serious this year. Currently the #2 ranked CQ rider (after TDU winner Gerrans) Boonen has three stage wins already as well as the overall at Qatar. The other three times he won Qatar he went on to chalk up VDS season totals of 1525 (2009) 1019 (2008) and-pulling the trusty calculator out of my pocket protector here-2736 (2006) points. So take his Qatar win and couple that with his San Luis workout and you have a Boonen who's more focused on the beginning of the season for years. (He's riding Oman too.) We should fully expect Boonen to seriously contest the Omloop AND KBK and continue right through the cobbles season, collecting a couple wins and several podiums along the way.
Yeah, the last couple of years have been kind of a downer for our favorite rider but that's mainly because he set such a high bar in the middle of the last decade. Every year he comes up with a big win (it seems) including last year's Gent-Wevelgem. He's still an A-list cobbles threat of compared to the rest of 'em (Cance, Phil, etc.) he can smoke 'em all in a sprint. Its not hard at all to envision him scoring 1000 points on the cobbles + MSR and that alone will make his-what are you kidding me just 12 freaking points?-worthwhile. And a focused Tom will score more points in the summer. 1500 point isn't out of the question. If I could I would Photoshop a picture of the Death Star with Tom's picture on it.
The Case Against Picking Tom (besides the Jens avoidance-of-popular-picks Rule-its a Swedish thing)
Hel-lo? Seriously? You're bringing up 2006? Well since you are let's look at his CQ season points totals, starting in 2006 when he was 26 for the cycling season:
2559, 1479, 1328, 1377, 777, 502, 298 (so far this year)
If that doesn't paint a picture of, what, disinterest? partying? premature aging? I don't know what does. But let's look a little closer at these numbers. You know the biggest factor in the decline here? Boonen back in the day had two components to his dominance: his cobbles/classics abilities and his bunch sprinting. What we see here is the gradual decline in his sprinting to where he just won two sprints last year: G-W and 1 stage at Qatar. So you look at his "resurgence" this year and what do you see? Him winning bunch sprints against B and C class sprinters. Give him a pat on the head. Look closer at the Qatar stages and he won when there was limited competition due to punctures and winds splitting up the peloton or he got boxed in close to a kilometer back from the finish and...never really tried to change his positioning. His win at San Luis was also against inferior competition. The bottom line says that he'll be lucky to win one bunch sprint this year. The sprinters have literally passed him by.
Prematurely too. Its not just that the Cavendishes and Greipels and Galimzyanovs are physically faster; Tom just gives up too soon. That's why his point totals have declines when he was in his physical prime. And what is true for the bunch sprints is also now true for the Classics and Monuments. Since winning Paris-Roubaix in 2009, his Classics dominance has gone with the wind. If I had to pick a moment when he Lost It I would pick his last race of 2009: October 11th, Paris-Tours. On the Rue de Grammont, they should put up a tombstone there with the inscription that reads "Here lies Tom Boonen R.I.P. October 11th 2009. Phil-Gil laid him down" That was the day that Boonen came in 2nd to Gilbert in a three-man sprint with Bozic. Remember? Boonen should have won, but misread a fagged out Bozic and Phil, who has no business out sprinting Tom, lightly stepped around him for the win.
That was his last race in 2009. In 2010 his first big race, MSR, he lost out on the sprint when Oscarito blew by him. E-3, Flanders and P-R? Cancellara did to Boonen what Secretariat did to Sham in the Triple Crown in '73: blew his doors off and eventually broke his spirit. We know how last year went. DNF in P-R? Seriously?
In VDS a rider who scored 580 points the year before like Tom did would be priced at 8 points. He's getting a 4 point surcharge because he's popular-and to make him feel better.
Sham? Seriously? Aren't we being a bit hysterical? The guy is only 31; its not like he's been dead for 20 years or anything. I agree that he's needed an attitude adjustment, but it sure looks like that's happened...finally. Tornado Tom's awoken from a two year nap and is hungry again. I can revise my hopes down some: 1000 points still seems likely and for a 12 pointer that's just fine. (I still think he'll crack 1500.)
O-VER-RATED! clap clap clap clap clap O-VER-RATED! clap clap clap clap clap clap clap
What will happen
Yes, well, I think this debate is over. Yeah, the two views of him above are kinda extreme. He neither sucks and he's no longer a god. Why that is, I'll leave to you to figure out. I do know that I love it when he's winning and so do most people reading this piece. And that's the most important thing in picking a VDS team: do you like your guys or not? Yeah, you'll read all sorts of rationalizations about picking one rider or avoiding another one. All sorts of calculations of rider efficiency and what not. You want to know a secret? All that stuff-and I do it a ton-is just rationalization, used to justify picking riders the writer likes and connect with. Yeah, some of the rationalization is good, seemingly, but how many people are gonna put riders they dislike on their team? Right.
Most of us love Tom Boonen. If so try to put him on your team. He's still the Straw That Stirs The Drink on the cobbles. Every team keys off of him. That alone makes it fun to root for him. And when he retires the peloton will be a little sadder. My gut tells me he's worth 12 points. How much more...I don't know. His start to the season has been better than it has been in years so maybe he's gonna recapture some of his glory. Physically he should be capable of doing so. Definitely his form now makes (for me at least) the Omloop/KBK weekend more interesting than it has been the last couple of years, since 2009. A good weekend for him should portend some serious ass-kicking this spring. Plus his team looks better than it has for years. They have alternatives to needing Boonen to win now, even in stage races. He can always rub Nugget's head for good luck.