As one of the greats of Belgian cycling comes ever closer to the day of retirement it is time for him to start planning for the times to come post-retirement. For many athletes taking the plunge and leaving the action of the racing, the adulation of the fans, the media attention and the paychecks is a scary step to take. Many if not all former stars struggle with that first period after they leave their active careers behind.
Suddenly after years of a life focused almost entirely on training and performing there is a need to find a new direction in life. You need to find new ways to make a living, or at least new ways to pass the time and get inspiration in case your career made you filthy rich and financially independent. To make it easier for our Flemish hero we have here a few basic models on who to become in his retirement years based on how some of the champions of the past have tackled the issue.
The Godfather: The Eddy Merckx Model
Let's start at the top shall we. The truly ambitious champion will try and emulate the Cannibal who has been nearly as predatory in retirement as he was on the roads. This career choice would include dabbling in just about everything cycling related. As a Godfather Boonen would be expected to venture into areas such as creating his own bike brand, work as a race organizer, keeping a watchful eye on young talent and steering them in healthy directions, sit on boards of cycling teams, ride charity events, travel to most major cycling events such as Worlds and the TdF and of course squeeze every hand and post for every picture with starstruck fans in varying degrees of inebriation. In short he would be expected to continue to be a visible and active icon.
Workload: Very high. Not much time to play with the kids for someone with as lofty ambitions as this. Working in some car-racing and stuff like that could probably work great for networking.
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Low. Boonen was always more laid back than Eddy and this all seems too busy for him. His drive to dominate isn't this high.
The Cantankerous Blowhard : The Roger De Vlaeminck Model
If you're not the work-o-holic type like Eddy but still crave the spotlight this could be the model for you. For Tom it would be particularly suitable as he has matched Mr Paris-Roubaix's record in the Queen of the classics. The main job description is basically to be forever available to media (and pretty much anyone who will listen) to tell tales of days of yore when you were riding your bike and when things were so much better. The more bitter and outrageous the better, the more full of contempt for the new young generation the better. A flamboyant personal life on the side is preferable, hot new wives every few years and some eccentric hobbies (wife-carrying contests, llama-farming and a football pitch in your garden is what Roger went for) to keep yourself interesting and in the news is all part of the package.
Workload: Low. Basically all tasks can be performed on a mild or not so mild Westmalle-buzz. In fact, it is preferred.
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Not so great really. Tornado nickname aside, Tom has always been too mild mannered. And he really blew his chances to position himself with all the weak talk of not riding in the tough winter conditions last week. A true De Vlaeminck would have given the kids a righteous bollicking for that wimpy behaviour.
The Industrious Entrepreneur: The Peter van Petegem Model
This is a bit of a medium-intensity version of the Eddy Model. You use your race-earnings to set up some minor business, maybe a bike shop, a B&B or a tractor-dealership. Then to stay connected to the cycling world you also get yourself a role in local racing scene. You could be scouting riders, designing courses or even work as a race organizer. If you have any sense at all you also get yourself your own pub in your hometown. Because hell, what good is being a local hero if you don't have your own bar. This also saves you the trouble of worrying what to do with all your old trophies and memorabilia once the missus thinks it's time to get all that smelly old junk out of the expensive modern design-villa by the Schelde that you can afford these days.
Workload: Medium. I mean you have to show up at the office every now and then but as long as you face is in the PR material you can staff out most of the actual work.
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Now we're talking. This feels more Tommeke's style. Laid back but ambitious. And I'm sure it would be some stylish looking tractors.
The Likeable Eccentric : The Eddy Planckaert Model
This is the really crazy option if you aren't looking to hang around cycling at all. Maybe you are so sick of bikes you never want to look at one again. Maybe you most of all would like to leave everything behind and move out in the woods. Maybe you're inclined to lose all that hard earned money to some shady money-manager who you shouldn't have trusted in the first place? Maybe that tractor-dealership wasn't such a cash cow after all and now you have to go live in a van down by the river?
If so you can always make a career out of your newfound quirkiness. You can assemble some looney and likable family and relatives on your goat-farm and get your own reality TV-show or you can go full-blown Charley Gaul crazy and become a hermit on some mountain somewhere (not Koppenberg) . There are many possibilities in this area.
Workload: Very very low. I mean you could spend all day in a hammock if you wanted.
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Low. Drug busts and youthful indiscretions aside, Boonen is just too straight-laced for this kind of eccentricity.
The Ever-bloating DS: The Wilfried Peeters Model
Closest at hand for any successful Belgian pro is to hang around the sport, get in the directors car and spend the nights in race-hotel bars with a steady stream of beer and steak-frites coming your way. Since cycling has been your life for so long you really don't feel comfortable stepping out of the comfort zone and abandoning the lifestyle completely. The whole "riding a bike" thing you are so utterly sick of though so if you never need to go out for even 45 minutes on some muddy flemish backroad, you'll be a happy camper. Of course this option will lead to you being a rather portly fellow in a short time, adapting the classic Belgian look. In no time you will be holding your own among Bruyneel, Niels Albert, Hilaire and the other big boys. It will keep you in the loop with all your old buddies, will keep the fans coming up to you for photos and as a bonus you get to exact revenge on all the old crappy DSs you had by being an ass to the new young riders under your supervision.
Workload: High. Basically it will keep you travelling and away from the family as much as racing did. And maybe that's what you're looking for?
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Low. Really, all Tom has going for him is the hairline which is already right where it needs to be for this role. Other than that the whole lifestyle doesn't really feel "him". Besides, how sexy are those maori-tattoos going to look on a chunky Belgian with grease in his thinning hair? Not very I would guess.
The Happy House-gnome: The Freddy Maertens Model
Maybe the day to day grind of a DS isn't what you are looking for but you still want to stay connected to the racing world. Why not do something like what Freddy has done and find yourself a cosy emeritus position. Freddy found the Ronde van Vlaanderen museum where he can mosey around, tell stories, pose for pictures with tourists, hang out at races and just generally look like jolly old Freddy Maertens. If you weren't so jolly during your racing career really doesn't matter.
Workload: Low to medium. It's a dayjob, you have to show up for but it isn't rocket science. If you're going with this option it probably means you did lose a fair bit of your savings on that tractor-dealership and you need the steady paycheck too.
Predicted Tommeke-fit: Low to medium. I don't foresee Tom having the craving for something like this early on but he's a likeable fellow and should there come a day down the line when the twins are out of the house he might find the allure in schmoozing the ladies and regaling the men with stories of how he slipped away from the opponents in the 2012 Roubaix "53 kilometers man, dat was mooi "