As I continue my spotlight series on prominent cyclists in the sporting industry, the next athlete to focus on seemed like an obvious choice. Recently announcing his retirement after 16 years of pro cycling, Tom Boonen has defined what it means to be a professional. Boonen had his final race in April of this year at one of my favorite races, the Paris-Roubaix – an event that he previously won 4 times. After overcoming the harrowing odds of addiction, this inspiring member of the Quick-Step Team is an extraordinary rider that deserves all of the praise he’s received. Here, we’ll take a look at the highlights from his 16 year career.
One of Boonen’s earliest accomplishments in pro cycling came in 2002 as a rider for the U.S. Postal Service, where he finished 3rd at the Paris-Roubaix. After getting a taste of the solo spotlight, Boonen decided that the U.S. Postal Service team was not giving him the opportunities he needed to grow as a cyclist. He joined the Quick-Step team in 2003 and remained within this program for the majority of his career.
2005 proved to be a winning year for Boonen, as he claimed victory in the Tour of Flanders and at Paris-Roubaix, along with a victory at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen. While his confidence and impeccable training during this year prepared him for winning the second and third stages of the Tour de France, Boonen unfortunately had to drop out of the epic race after stage 11 due to injuries that he sustained in crashes. After winning several other high profile races in 2005, Boonen was awarded the Crystal Bicycle, the Golden Bicycle, the Trophy for Sporting Merit, Belgian Sportsman of the year, and Belgian Sports Personality of the Year. Quite a feat for someone to achieve in one year.
Over the next decade, Boonen continued to excel and enjoy many major wins, despite an unfortunate lapse in judgement when he tested positively for cocaine in 2008 and 2009. After being barred from several major races, and being forced to sever ties with his team for some time, Boonen took this time to focus once more on high quality training and reclaiming his sportsmanship persona. With this life event behind him, he went on to win Paris-Roubaix twice, continued to be victorious in favorite races such as the Tour of Qatar, and had a streak of wins in 2012 that put him back in contention for the Olympics and favorability for standard high profile races.
As seen on his personal website, Boonen is not shy about his personal life. Over the course of his career, he has kept his fans updated on life events and feelings towards his racing abilities through a series of diary-like entries posted online. Born on October 15th, 1980, in Belgium, Boonen has enjoyed a happy life taking the racing reins from his father, Andre Boonen, who was also a pro cyclist. This passion for sport led him to race in junior competitions as a child until Boonen realized that his talent could take him to major heights in the sport.
Although Boonen is not married, he and his longtime girlfriend welcomed twin girls In 2015, giving Boonen a chance to pass on his love for racing to his children just like his father had done for him.
Over the course of his career, Boonen suffered injuries from dozens of intense crashes that led him to withdraw from races several times. After a successful 16 years, and as a new father, Tom Boonen decided that 2017 would be the year he would retire. Quoted as not being emotional about his retirement, Boonen left the sport with grace. His final event was the Paris-Roubaix, Boonen’s favorite pro-cycling race of his tenure.
Although Tom Boonen will be missed in the sport of cycling, his friendly persona, unique spirit, and incredible athleticism has solidified his lasting legacy. The cycling world is sure to hear from Boonen again, as many speculate that he won’t be able to stay away from involvement in the sport for long. As his career comes to an end, fellow teammates and former rivals praise his commitment to being a winning athlete. I’m sure I speak for the entire cycling community as I wish Boonen a happy retirement and thank him for his contributions to the sport.