Sunday’s edition of the historic Paris-Roubaix spring Classic will see a field containing all 18 World Tour teams tackle a grueling 257.5km route from the Parisian suburb of Compiègne to the velodrome at Roubaix.
Some 51.5km will be contested on the race’s infamous pavé: 27 sections of cobblestoned roads that have become the signature of the most famous of the spring Classics.
One of five ‘Monuments’ of the cycling calendar, the Queen of the Classics was first held in 1896, and victory is a career defining moment for any rider strong enough to win.
Multiple champions include some of the greatest riders in the history of the sport.
Roger de Vlaeminck won the race four times (1972, 1974, 1975, 1977); Eddy Merckx won twice (1970 and 1973) as did Sean Kelly (1984 and 1986). Johan Museeuw, the Lion of Flanders, was the last to record three victories (1996, 2000, 2002).
The man hoping to surpass Museeuw’s achievement on Sunday (8), and most people’s favourite to do so, is three-time winner, Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), winner of last weekend’s Tour of Flanders, and victor at Gent Wevelgem a week earlier, two days after winning E3 Harelbeke.
“The record, if I say I am not interested to win Roubaix four times, I am lying,” Boonen told a press gathering yesterday. “We will see. I am always motivated for his race, but for sure this gives me a little extra motivation.”
Boonen will be backed by a very strong line-up that includes French national champion, Sylvain Chavenel, winner of last week’s Three Days of De Panne, Niki Terpstra, victor at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, and his lieutenant, Gert Steegemans.
“Maybe I am one of the favorites, but I am not the only one,” Boonen said.
“Pozzato and Ballan showed at Ronde van Vlaanderen they are in great condition. Both are very, very good at the moment. I am a little more explosive than them, but you never know in a race like that. It’s always complicated. It is also not only Pozzato, Ballan, or a rider like Van Summeren. It’s also other guys, for example Flecha, Eisel, or Hushovd. In the spring Classics, I think Hushovd wants to show something.”
Hushovd, the 2010 world road race champion, will spearhead the challenge of BMC Racing, and has spoken confidently in the build up to the race of his ability to beat Boonen. But after a disappointing season, continued last week at the Tour of Flanders, his teammate, Alessandro Ballan, could represent BMC’s best chance of victory. The 2008 world road race champion finished third in the Ronde after driving the decisive three-man break with Boonen and Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia).
Britain’s Team Sky are still seeking their first ‘Monument’ victory and will send a team of ‘hardmen’ to l’enfer du Nord, led by Juan Antonio Flecha, who stood on the podium in the Roubaix velodrome in 2010 and registered a top 10 finish last year. Edvald Boasson Hagen, widely regarded as one of the most talented all-rounders in the peloton, hasn’t won a Classic since his Gent-Wevelgem triumph in 2009, and a win seems overdue. Bernhard Eisel, Ian Stannard, and Matthew Hayman will provide plenty of strength.
Last year’s winner, Johan Vansummeren and Sep Vanmarcke, who outsprinted Boonen to win the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad semi-classic in February, represent Garmin-Barracuda’s best chance of victory.
Pippo Pozzato rode strongly to finish second at the Ronde, but with support only from his Pro Continental Farnese Vini-Selle Italia teammates, will do well to be in the running at Roubaix.
The contender missing from this list is, of course, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek). Recovering from a quadruple fracture to his collarbone at the Ronde, his absence from Paris-Roubaix will be keenly felt by all fans of cycling.