2010 Paris-Roubaix Preview: Who will have a chance in Hell?
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Saturday, April 10, 2010

2010 Paris-Roubaix Preview: Who will have a chance in Hell?

by Steve Jones at 8:52 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix
 

The 108th edition of Paris-Roubaix is set to take place this Sunday and, after his dominating performance in the Tour of Flanders last week, former winner Fabian Cancellara from the Saxo Bank team will be seen by many as the overwhelming favorite.  As with the others on the list of potential winners, Cancellara’s biggest challenge will come from the 27 sectors of pavé spread across 52.9 kilometers of the 259 kilometer route.  Paris-Roubaix has a long history of shaping its outcome, whether it’s an ill-timed flat tire or a crash on the unforgiving cobbles; the Queen of the Classics has no remorse when it comes to removing a would-be winner from what might have been their finest victory.

Part of the mystique of Paris-Roubaix is that the strongest doesn’t always cross the finish line first to claim the trophy, but the eventual winner, whoever it may be, will have earned his place in cycling history.  The air of uncertainty that surrounds the “Hell of the North” appeals to a rare breed of cyclists, willing to risk everything for a chance to stand atop the podium in the sport’s toughest Classic.

Cancellara’s rival Tom Boonen and his Quick Step teammate Stijn Devolder are the obvious choice to put the most pressure on the Swiss rider.  Boonen has won the previous two editions of Paris-Roubaix, and this time around he has the opportunity to make history by equaling Roger de Vlaeminck’s record of four wins.  The Belgian duo will have their work cut out for them as Saxo Bank will start the race with a strong team that includes former winner Stuart O’Grady and an on form Matti Breschel.

There are four highly experienced riders who represent the best chance of pulling off an upset, but will likely be fighting out the last spot on the podium since Boonen and Cancellara have already shown they’re on another level.  Last year’s second place finisher Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) was flying before he came down with the flu and was forced to miss last week’s Tour of Flanders.  The Italian rode anonymously in the Scheldeprijs earlier this week and will now have a question mark over his form.  Finishing behind Pozzato in the 2009 edition was Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam), who hasn’t been able to match his spring results from a year ago, but says he’ll be ready for Sunday’s race.  A crash in the closing kilometers of Roubaix last year cost Hushovd a chance for victory.   Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) started out the Belgian calendar with a win in Het Nieuwsblad, but following his strong performance at the E3 Prijs he seems to have had quieted down.  The Spaniard has either been biding his time for Paris-Roubaix, or is likely to be outmatched in Sunday’s race.  American George Hincapie (BMC Racing) has developed a love/hate relationship with Paris-Roubaix throughout his career, and puts the French race at the very top of his wish list.  After a couple of years where bad luck has kept him from a big result in Roubaix, his performances so far this year are in line with his 2001 build-up to the race, arguably the year he produced his strongest ride in the cobbled Classic.

Paris-Roubaix is never easy to predict, and there are plenty of riders in with a chance of finding their way through the cobblestones.  The Garmin-Transitions trio of Tyler Farrar, David Millar and Martijn Maaskant are at the top of the list.  Farrar and Millar are fresh off wins in the Scheldeprijs and the Three Days of De Panne, and have confirmed their intentions with strong rides in the Tour of Flanders last weekend.  Maaskant has ridden well in Paris-Roubaix before and could be a valuable lieutenant for his teammates even if his form isn’t quite there.  Roger Hammond (Cervelo TestTeam) finished on the podium in 2004, and showed he was riding well in Flanders last weekend.  Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Leif Hoste and Team Sky’s Mathew Hayman also showed their strength in last weekend’s race.  Hoste rode extremely well  considering he spent the previous week trying to recover from a stomach flu.

One of the key bylines of tomorrow’s race will be seeing how young guns Jens Keukeleire (Cofidis) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Doimo) fare in the “Hell of the North”.  At 21 and 20 respectively, the pair has been disrespecting their elders in the early season in the form of big wins.  While age will likely preclude them from securing a big result, their performances could give the world an indication of whether they could be the dominant force in Paris-Roubaix in just a few years time.

The weather for Sunday’s race is expected to be good, which means the race will be fast and full of dust.  The gateway to hell will be marked by the Forest of Arenberg, a 2,400 meter sector of pavé situated at kilometer 164.  While the race won't be won in Arenberg, it will serve as the first opportunity for a rider to lose his chance.  For the next 98 kilometers the roads will decide who will have a chance at victory, and the Carrefour de l'Arbre, just 15 kilometers from the finish, will provide the last big opportunity for an attack.  The Belgians will be under pressure to deliver their first win of the season in the cobbled Classics and, with 53 wins in 107 editions, at least history will put the odds in their favor.

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