Fate dealt a cruel blow or two to the finale of the Hell of the North. The final selection was a powerful group and few could see anyone out gunning Tom Boonen as the race closed in on the Velodrome. However it was a hard day for the Quick Step rider as he had found himself isolated in the break and looked a little tired from his incredible ride at Flanders the previous week.
A final attack from Swiss time trial expert Fabian Cancellara left the cobbled specialists reeling and he quickly built a 30 second lead. Then a train crossing meant that the chasing group (now split in two) had to wait for the train to pass. Train crossings are often the cause of race splits in France and how this happened was pretty simple - they were going too fast! The schedule was 15 minutes ahead of the fastest predicted time and trains had not yet been stopped.
As the level-crossing lights flashed, the trio of Peter Van Petegem and Discovery's Gusev and Leif Hoste jumped through (they were later disqualified for this) and Boonen's group had to wait.
George Hincapie added to the Discvovery Team's woes when his steerer snapped with 45kms to go. He was looking strong too and had two team mates in the move which surely would have helped him out-gun Boonen.
The un-marked CSC rider, Cancellara, managed to escape in the closing kilometres and TT to victory, unaware that his gap had been added to slightly by the timetable of SNCF. He deserved his win though, as it looked unlikely that the chasers could have caught him train or no, it was classic's racing at its very best.
Interesting to note in the cold light of day that Boonen opts for a steel steerer at Paris Roubaix, perhaps Hincapie will next time and those deep section wheels can't be comfortable, can they? British riders finished strongly in the main group with Roger Hammond completing the course with 14 stitches in a wound on his shin, after a fall in the Tour of Flanders. Jeremy Hunt also completed the course inside the main peloton, as did Bradley Wiggins - a remarkable result for a rider fairly new to this sort of racing.
So once again this race proved that the Paris Roubaix is an amazing battle of luck, will and strength.
Results - 104th Paris Roubaix - 259kms
1. Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team CSC 6.07.54 (42.239 km/h)
2. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic 1.49
3. Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
4. Juan Antonio Flecha (Spa) Rabobank
5. Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française des Jeux 3.25
6. Steffen Wesemann (Swi) T-Mobile Team 5.35
7. Frédéric Guesdon (Fra) Française des Jeux 6.31
8. Bert Roesems (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto 6.44
9. Christophe Mengin (Fra) Française des Jeux
10. Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone 6.45 24. Roger Hammond (GBr) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team @st
33. Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com
49. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone