Either my embrocation is tingling in places I didn’t apply it, or I’m really, really excited for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Watching last week’s Tour of Flanders reminded me (as if I needed reminding) just what’s so special about one-day races in April, and this week we get to see perhaps the most brutal race of the season.
Where Flanders is long and winding and roll-y and technical, lending itself to all sorts of tactical scheming (see: Nuyens, Nick), Roubaix is a race of pure attrition. There is one tactic, stay upright and on the front.
A quick review of the favorites looks much like last week’s Flanders preview. Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O’Grady from LeOpard-Trek. Nick “Nothing to See Here” Nuyens from SaxoBank-Sungard. Thor Hushovd, Tyler Farrar, Heinrich Haussler and Roger Hammond from Garmin-Cervelo. Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel from QuickStep. Big George Hincapie from BMC. Juan Antonio Flecha, Geraint Thomas and Matt Hayman from Team Sky. Bjorn Leukemans from Vacansoleil. Matt Goss and Bernhard Eisel from HTC-Columbia. Peter Sagan from Liquigas.
In the category of likely winners, we can only include Cancellara, Hushovd, Boonen and Flecha. However, if Flanders taught us anything last week, it’s that “likely” isn’t nearly as powerful a modifier when applied to the winners of bike races as it is to the possibility of having to work at a job you hate for the rest of your working days.
Some of the riders in my list need certain, specific scenarios to play out for them to have any chance, but in this race, anything is possible. For example, Stuart O’Grady, who has won this race before, will be riding for Cancellara. If Cancellara’s legs are bad or some mechanical takes him out of contention, O’Grady has the power and experience to be Leopard-Trek’s man on the line.
Similarly, Hushovd should be Garmin-Cervelo’s ace, but he was crap last week, where Farrar seemed strong. Of course, Farrar went down in a heap in the bunch sprint at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday, so he’s carrying some damage. This team needs a win badly, and, depending on the situation on Heinrich Haussler has been no where recently, but with question marks over team leadership, Garmin could opt for any of these guys, or even Roger Hammond who is massively experienced and perfectly suited to the horrible terrain this race takes in.
While Flecha remains Team Sky’s top guy, anyone who watched Geraint Thomas pounding away on the front for his captain last week knows the young Welshman is strong enough to make his own race. Matt Hayman also has the characteristics of a Roubaix winner, big, strong, indifferent to pain.
Tom Boonen and Quick Step took a lot of flack for only finishing 2nd and 4th in Flanders. While Sylvain Chavanel has the build to do well in the Belgian race, he’s probably not a big enough brute to challenge in the North of France. But then, who saw him finishing ahead of Boonen AND Cancellara in the Ronde?
I’ll not waste a lot more pixels on the rest of the contenders. There seem to be a lot of folks who want (and still believe) Hincapie can win this race. I’m not one of them, but that doesn’t mean much. Bjorn Leukemans won’t win it either, except that he’s a sneaky bastard who is always there or thereabouts.
This is your preview. We picked Paris-Roubaix winners last week on the Group Ride, but you have more information now. You’ve seen all the horses run. Pick again. Can Cancellara come back? Will Boonen have the gas without Chavanel up the road? Have we missed someone you think has a legitimate (or sentimental) shot at hoisting that giant cobble trophy in the velodrome at Roubaix?
I will be joining the fine fellows at Pavé for their Feed Zone Live Chat, starting around 7am EDT Sunday. We’ll have the Sporza internet feed dialed up, the coffee brewed and the wise cracks flowing like champagne off the podium steps, so please do join us. It’s sure to be a (metric) ton of fun.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International