Paris-Roubaix – Preview

Tomorrow’s the day we’ve all been waiting for: the “Queen” of the classics, Paris-Roubaix. A 260km race with over 50 km of pave in the final 160km, Roubaix is truly the one classic every rider dreams of having the talent, power, and luck necessary to win.

This year, the weather is forecast to be dry and sunny, conditions similar to last year’s event. However, the race should still be anything but uneventful; Roubaix always offers a spectacle!

This year, several favorites will take the line despite the absence of two of the race’s recent winners: Stuart O’Grady and Alessandro Ballan.

In honor of the occasion, and the first-ever Pavé Preview of the race that made cobblestones famous in the first place, I’m unveiling a new way of ranking my riders to watch.

Allez! Allez!

Tom Boonen – As we saw last year, Tommeke is not one to be overshadowed during the week that traditionally marks the high point of his season. Yes, he’ll be marked by probably every rider in the race (including his own teammates). Yes, he’s under an incredible amount of pressure. Yes, he’s on a team containing no less than 3 riders capable of winning. These factors alone combine to make Tom a less-than-ideal candidate for the win. But let’s face it folks, he’s far and away the most powerful rider in the peloton at the moment. He also rides for the strongest team. Oh, and he’s won this race twice already. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he’s got something to prove to an entire country who thinks he’s not its best cyclist anymore. Add it all up, and you have to set Boonen apart from the rest; he’s my only 5-Stone Favorite.

Filippo Pozzato – I might be overrating him, but I think Pippo has at least enough left in his tank to be there at the end. If he gets to the velodrome with the lead group he could give his Italian fans reason to celebrate. A key for Pozzato will be his team. Can his colleagues keep him well-positioned and out of harm’s way? Another key: will he attack more than he did last Sunday? Yes, he launched a few assaults on Boonen, but for most part he seemed tentative and unsure of his ability to ride away from the Tornado. Personally, I think the best way to crack Boonen is to put him on the defensive, particularly if his own teammates begin to feel they have better legs than he does. If I were Pozatto, I’d attack Boonen before he’s isolated, forcing his team to decide whom they wish to protect. The resulting hesitation–or better yet–in-fighting among the Quick Steppers might be enough to launch him to the win.

George Hincapie – George is a sentimental favorite here for many reasons. His team says it is 100% devoted to getting him the win. Riders like Eisel and Burghart are powerful domestiques capable of shielding him well into the race’s later stages. The key here is just going to be George himself, specifically, his form and his luck. Will he stay upright? Will he make the right tactical decisions? Will his steerer tube stay intact? Roubaix is the one race more than any other where luck can make or break you. Will this be George’s year?

Stijn Devolder – He’s not shy about his goals—he wants to win the double. Frankly, I thought he’d take more of the company line following his win last weekend. However, it appears that Stijn wants more. Boonen can’t be pleased. Devolder’s never really shown an aptitude for the Roubaix; his best finish (18th) was last year in a race where he spent most of the day working for Boonen. That said, he was with the leaders up to the final selection and launched a few leg-blowing attacks to set things up for his captain. Will he be so willing to do the same this year? Or will he play his cards closer to his chest in the hopes taking the win himself?

Leif Hoste – Last week I said that Silence-Lotto might be a week too early for a big win. Hoste’s the man I had in mind. If things bounce his way Sunday, he could be just the rider to profit from a Boonen-Pozzato-Devolder-Hincapie stalemate. If his team puts the right riders in the right moves to give him some help up the road when the field thins, this maid could finally become a bride.

Fabian Cancellara – Yes, he’s been sick and had some bad luck, but I think that might play in Spartacus’ favor. He’ll be fresh, and no one quite knows for certain just where his form lies. He also does well in the dry, sunny weather. Mark my words, Cancellara will be a factor.

Sylvain Chavanel – Could we see yet another 1-2-3 victory for Lefevre’s boys? If so, look for Chavanel to get the low spot on the podium pole. For him to win, he’ll have to profit from his team’s tactics–similar to Devolder last week. Wouldn’t the French just love to have another winner from their own country? He rides for a Belgian team, but a win’s a win.

Juan Antonio Flecha – It would be nice to see Flecha actually launch an attack before 4 or 5 other riders have gone up the road. If he’s in a position to do so then he could become Spain’s first winner.

Martijn Maaskant – Only Hincapie winning would make me happier than seeing Maaskant live up to the hype he’s received after his finishes in Flanders and Roubaix last year and Flanders last weekend. To be honest though, I just don’t think he has the team to help him pull it off. He’ll need to choose the right wheels to follow and hope to profit from the work of the better, deeper teams. For more on this, read Ryan’s post over at The Service Course following Flanders last week.

Heinrich Haussler – Not much to say here other than the fact that he might have peaked a bit too soon. Yes, he was second in Flanders, but he was never really a factor at the point when the race could still be won. Not to say he couldn’t finally get it together and get a big win, I just think HH will have to wait until next year for his big Classic.

2-Stone Outsiders:
Nick Nuyens – If Flecha doesn’t get in his way, Nick’s capable of pulling-away for a big win in a race such as this.

Frederic Guesdon – He’s old, he’s wily, and he’s won this race before. Maybe he gets in an early break and just slowly sneaks away. You never know, right?

Manuel Quinziato – He’s obviously peaking—watch the Flanders replay for proof. While the win might be a bit out of reach, he could certainly play a role.

Bjorn Leukemans – Another rider who might be well-served by getting in an early break with a rouleur or two capable winning. Maybe these 4 riders should just look for one another early?

No matter what happens, the race will certainly make for good watching. I’ll do my best to post a reliable live stream source as soon as I find one. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, I might not get to watch the live finale myself. I’ll just have to wait for Vs. later in the day.

That’s all for now. Have a great holiday if you’re celebrating. Feel free to share your favorites with us.

About Whit

My experiences might easily fit many cycling fans' definitions of “living the dream.” Since getting hooked on the sport watching Lance Armstrong win the 1993 U.S. Pro Championship, I've raced as an amateur on Belgian cobbles, traveled Europe to help build a European pro team, and piloted that team from Malaysia to Mont Ventoux. As a former assistant director sportif with Mercury-Viatel, I've also seen the less dreamy side of the sport – the side rife with broken contracts, infighting, and positive dope tests. These days, I live with my lovely wife in Pennsylvania and share my experiences and views on the sport at Bicycling Magazine, the Embrocation Cycling Journal, and at my own site, Pavé.
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