Friday Group Ride #163


Here we are again, Roubaix weekend. I can’t think about this race without hearing, in my head, the horrible rattling of the pack over those impossible “roads.” I can’t think about this race without imagining the jarring, the wishing for it to end, the ludicrous proposition of racing there, the relief of entering the velodrome.

Fabian Cancellara will win this race. He has to. It is impossible that he will not with the form he’s got, with the experience he has gathered, with his great rival, Tom Boonen, struck down. Something terrible will need to happen to the big Swiss to prevent him from sitting on a crappy plastic chair in Roubaix, a soigneur pawing at his face with a sponge glove, while the rest of the peloton limps into view.

But then, this is a race where terrible things happen. Cancellara has already crashed twice this week, once at Scheldeprijs, once on a simple recon ride. It is impossible to know his true condition, though the team has played down his injuries, calling them superficial.

I don’t know about superficial injuries. In my experience, the effects of a crash accrue over time. What seems like an innocuous spill in the moment feels like a hammer blow later, your body’s natural entropy accelerated and exacerbated as you ask it to do more and more work. Paris-Roubaix is work.

Nonetheless, with Cancellara in the race, all other horses must be dark. Sagan, Pozzato, Hushovd, Roelandts, Phinney. There. I’ve said their names. I could say more, but does any of them ring with the truth of Cancellara.

This week’s Group Ride asks, is it inevitable? Must Cancellara win? If not him, then who? Why won’t he win? What is the tactical play that overcomes his sheer strength?

Image: Vlaam – Wikimedia

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  1. Jeremy

    I think his injuries are worse than they are indicating. I saw the video of his fall on the Roubaix recon and he immediately got up and in to the team car. Looked like he was trying to get out of site quickly to avoid detection from the cameras.

    With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if he still won. I’d love to see another wild card like VanSummeran win, but not in the manner he did of course (Hushovd wheelsucking Cancellara).

    We shall see…..

  2. sam findley

    It’s either going to be Cancellara or somebody completely unexpected. For that reason, I’m going with Dominque Rollin. He probably has as much chance of winning as HUshovd, actually.

  3. Bill Harris

    I don’t think this week’s falls will keep him from winning. Only another in-race fall, or a supremely fortuitous stroke of luck by another rider having the very best day of his life, will keep Cancellara from winning.

  4. ScottyCycles

    I think Spartacus will make his “move” with just under 40K to go but Phinney will be paying attention and being the TT’r that he is will be able to go with him. It will come down to a two up sprint between the “old guard” and the “youngster”

  5. scaredskinnydog

    I’m going with Taylor Phinney. He rides beyond his years and I think he’s ready to rock the pave!

  6. Author

    RELATED QUESTION – Does Thor Hushovd still really ride bikes? Is mentioning him in a post like this now the equivalent of bringing up Big George Hincapie during his last 5 attempts at Roubaix?

  7. cormw

    Although Cancellara is favored, I just have a feeling that someone else is going to slip away with this one. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see Fabian crush another classic, but something tells me we are going to see a dark horse emerge for this win. Maybe Roelandts has what it takes in this race to duplicate his efforts from Flanders, but I would not count on it. Hushovd does not seem to be on form, again, so I’m thinking BMC will have to support Phinney, which would be amazing to see an American win this race!

  8. imakecircles

    I wonder if some of the teams with two or more strongish contenders like Chavanel/Terpstra, Phinney/Thor, or Thomas/Boasson-Hagen might be able to send one up the road and sit on, ala Thor/VanSummeran a couple years back.

  9. Maremma Mark

    The very uncertainty of Paris-Roubaix is a large part of its mystique. Even if you turn up on the start line in top form, which Cancellara seems to be, it’s still a roll of the dice. So many things can go wrong, from equipment failures to falling off, missing the right break or something as simple as not being able to eat enough with a subsequent bonk at the wrong moment. Watch how Cancellara got away from the group in 2010, he noticed that Boonen was towards the back of the bunch eating and he squirted off the front, not to be caught again.
    Marking Cancellara might well open up the race to any number of solutions and the choice of who could take the top honors will possibly come down to 10 riders. I know, a lot of ‘ifs’. Here are my picks based on who I’ve seen riding strongly in previous races this spring: Taylor Phinney, Hayden Roulsten, Ian Stannard, Sep Van Marcke, Juan Antonio Flecha, Michael Schar, Luca Paolini, Alex Dowsett or Daniel Oss. My heart says Phinney, it would be huge if he won. Oh, let’s not forget Devolder or Van Avermaet…

  10. Q

    I’m rooting for Phinney, but I’m betting he doesn’t win but finishes on the podium. This will be for him what 2002 was for the young Tom Boonen: finish on the podium at a young age while theoretically still being the #2 guy on your team, and then enter the race as a favorite every year thereafter. The other guy I expect to do something despite not being his team leader is Ian Stannard.

  11. todd k

    On paper a fit Cancellara is hard to beat.

    +1 with imakecircles. He can be beat if the right mix of riders from teams with multiple possibilies get up the road. See 2011. It is a solid a tactic.

    Let’s say the race mostly sticks together past the Arenberg and Sky, BMC or OPQS get a couple of solid guys up the road shortly there after and Lars Boom goes with that group. Solid guys that can clearly hold their own in PR, but not so solid that it causes the teams missing the break to immediately react to reel it back. So no Chavanel or Boasson Hagen. Also solid, but small in They work together to get a nice solid 2 minute gap that forces Cancellara’s hand. And everyone represented in the break sits on his wheel. He’s raced well, but can’t pull such ina group far enough up the road without help. (Well, he could, but he doesn’t this time). Which of course he wouldn’t get. Except briefly from Devolder who can’t trade pulls endlessly with Cancellara.

    I’ll go with Lars Boom for the win under that scenario.

    Lot of ifs.

  12. Nick

    The Hushovd/Hincapie comparison is probably spot on, except that Hincapie was consistent in placing decently and these past 2 years Hushovd is definitely not. I try to remember that all it takes is one great win and then we’ll all be saying Hushovd is back to his winning ways, but it seems so far this year he’s fodder more than a competitor. Maybe he can find his form for the TdF.

    I just can’t imagine Pozzato or Flecha ever winning this race. They have neither the sprint to win from small groups nor the TT ability to stay away from one. Chavanel clearly has the fitness and love for these races, but it seems he often uses his matches early.

    The most exciting thing about this race for me this year is that, if Spartacus really is hurt, then it feels very open. I really hope we see a surprise winner, or that I have to eat my words about my above assessments.

  13. Patrick O'Brien

    Well, the weather is forecasted to be 50 degrees and partly cloudy on the route. So, I also pick Cancellara. His chances are even better if he gets a suspension fork and a Thudbuster seat post on his bike.

  14. Champs

    When it comes to Hushovd, I’m with Robot.

    That means it’s time for history to repeat. I’ll step up with the token prediction of Flecha. If for some strange reason it comes true, will anyone will bellyache about The Archer, or do we only do that for signature celebrations by regular winners?

  15. Wsquared

    Re: Thor. Voodoo cursed by JV when he left Garmin for what he said would be a team (BMC) that would treat him better. It’s been all downhill since his departur from argyle. Karma?

    Spartacus kissed the cobbles too many times this week. With Tomke out, I’m thinking maybe its finally Chavanel’s time for éclat. He’s been training for Roubaix.

  16. Hautacam

    This race is bonkers. It chews everyone up and spits out the last person you’d predict. Sometimes that’s the favorite (despite being marked from the start), and other times it’s the guy who is simply lucky enough not to get a plastic bag stuck in his sprockets at the key moment. I’ve given up trying to predict who is going to pull it off.

    You have to like Cancellara’s form and his race savvy, but the guy sure has fallen off a lot recently. I don’t know enough about the others to make a prediction. And it would probably be wrong anyway.

  17. scaredskinnydog

    I don’t think its wise to throw in the towel on Thor just yet. I could actually see him playing a big part in the race. He’s got a good chance of getting away early. Imagine the panic if Thor slips away in an early break and suddenly has 5+ minutes. Soooo many possibilities with only one thing for sure. Its gonna be fun to watch!

  18. rashadabd

    I like experience this year in P-R. You can’t knock Cancellara as the most logical choice, he’s in the zone. Beyond Fabian, for some reason Chavenel keeps coming to mind for me. His form has been good and he has a strong, experienced team (along with a unique opportunity with Boonen being out). I am hoping for Hushovd or Phinney, but I can’t say that I am confident either will win. My one exception to the experience requirement is Degenkolb. I just like watching the guy ride honestly, but his form and skillset seem to be steadily improving and I will pulling for him along with the BMC guys.

  19. Paul

    You mention Sagan, Robot, but he’s not actually racing. As for winners, I don’t think anyone can outride Cancellara, so a team has to outsmart him. It will take someone strong up the road, like Van Summeran in 2011. Someone like Oss or Stannard, perhaps?

  20. DanL

    My guesses…. A Frenchman wins out of a small group — but an FDJ or Europcar, not Chavanel — say Turgot. Another darkhorse like Degenkolb in 2nd. Haussler is pissed off enough to land 3rd. Phinney in, yup, 4th. Big leaders end up 5th-10th. Cancellara, Thor DNF.

    Who knows really, but can’t wait to watch the real thing!

  21. Maremma Mark

    Well lads & lassies, now we know, Cancellara really is that good. I should have mentioned in my earlier reply that everyone I listed was in addition to the name of Spartacus. How could you not put Cancellara in a list of top ten possible winners? I had the satisfaction of watching one of the guys I picked land a podium spot, Van Marcke. And Van Avermaet just barely missed getting third. Only 24 yrs. old, bet it won’t be the last we see of Van Marcke at P-R.

    Still don’t know where Phinney or Hushvod finished, they didn’t figure in the last 35-40 km, or better, the TV cameras weren’t covering the groups they were in. My guess is that Phinney had a mechanical, he was right there with the front group and then poof, he was gone.

  22. Tom in albany

    All I can say is, what if? If Boonen had been there…

    There’s no way to know.

    I hope, finally, next year, Boonen AND Fabian are in good form. It might be the last chance for us to see these to superhard men on the cobbles before the likes of Phinney and Sagan take over the classics…

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