The 111th edition of Paris-Roubaix will be held on Sunday.
Nineteen WorldTour teams, each fielding an eight-man squad, will tackle a cobble-strewn parcours considered brutal even by the hardmen of professional cycling.
Fabian Cancellara will start as overwhelming favourite after a crushing victory at the Tour of Flanders last Sunday (March 31) and Tom Boonen’s injury in the same race, one that has ruled out a title defence for the Belgian.
A course containing 27 cobbled sectors, however, allows nothing to be taken for granted.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) was peerless last Sunday en route to his second victory at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. His attack on the first ascent of the Oude Kwaremont was widely predicted, but proved unstoppable when it came. Only Peter Sagan (Cannondale) could hang with Spartacus, and he was shelled on the next climb, the Paterberg. A solo ride to the finish Oudenaarde, conducted at speeds nudging 50kmh, delivered the final crushing blow to Sagan’s lingering hopes that with the help of Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) he might rejoin the fight. On this form, and at any other race, Cancellara would be an almost certain victor. Nothing at Paris-Roubaix, however, is certain.
Sylvain Chavanel, an aggressive all-rounder, will lead Omega Pharma-QuickStep in the absence of team-mate, Boonen. While eighth remains ‘Chava’s’ highest finish at Roubaix, a rider of his attacking temperament cannot be discounted. He broke clear of a heavyweight field last year, before a puncture freed Boonen from the duty of protecting his team-mate’s lead. Five of the OPQS team whose efforts failed to provide meaningful support for Mark Cavendish in the closing kilometres of Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, earning veiled threats of dismissal from manager, Patrick Lefevre, will ride at Roubaix. There will be few more motivated riders in the peloton.
Pippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), a client of Lance Armstrong’s favourite medic, Dr Michele Ferrari, has admitted that the 2013 Paris-Roubaix represents his final appearance as a contender. The Italian, a distant second to Tom Boonen in the crash-strewn 2009 edition, enjoyed a relatively successful spring Classics campaign last year, before incurring a three-month ban from the Italian cycling federation, reduced from a year on a technicality (it had failed to register Ferrari on its list of banned medics despite imposing penalties on riders who consulted him). By his own admission, Pozzato has missed his targets for this year’s Milan-San Remo, a race he won in 2006, and at the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, where second last year represents his highest finish (he was 44th last last Sunday). Pozzato has finished on the podium at Roubaix just once (the aforementioned runners-up slot in 2009) and few will celebrate his return should it come to pass on Sunday.
Thor Hushovd is likely to lead BMC Racing, perhaps one of the strongest teams in the race; one with a line-up that could place Marcus Burghardt, Taylor Phinney and Daniel Oss at the Norwegian’s disposal, or see any of the three bid for victory. It is likely, however, that Hushovd will lead the men in red and black. In 2009, he crashed after riding clear of the field with eventual winner, Tom Boonen, while in 2010, he outsprinted cobbled Classics specialist, Juan Antonio Flecha, for the consolation prize after Cancellara had romped home a full two minutes earlier. Hushovd appears to have put a disappointing campaign in 2012 behind him with an early-season victory at the Tour of the Mediterranean. Conditions in northern France will be decidedly different, however.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) is a self-described “cobbled Classics specialist” and has a record to back his claims. He finished fourth last year after a determined but ultimately doomed pursuit of Boonen. Third, both in 2005 and 2010, remains the highest finish for “the Spanish Flandrian”, but having devoted a career to victory in Roubaix, expect to see him give everything on Sunday.
Some 52.6km of the 254.5km route is cobbled. The pavé is divided into the famous secteurs that, in combination with its length and typically foul weather, do much to characterise Paris-Roubaix as l’enfer du Nord.
The Trouée d’Arenberg
The ‘Trench of Arenberg’, introduced in 1968, has frequently created the selection from which the winner has emerged. Long, straight, flat, and brutal, it presents an unbroken 2.4km of cobbles that for many has spelt disaster. The tactic most frequently deployed on cobbles – hit them hard and fast – is no guarantee here of remaining upright.
At 3km, the Mons-en-Pévèle is the longest of the 27 pavé secteurs, and will greet the riders after 205km, or, more pertinently, 50km from the finish. A feature since 1978, and exempted only once in the ensuing 35 years, this undulating passage of carefully restored (read: savage) cobbles, includes two 90 degree bends.
Carrefour de l’Arbre
More brutality, this time as much as 2.1km of it, the Crossroads of l’Arbe includes several corners and a slight climb. With little more than 16km to the finish, those strong enough to be in contention at this stage have, in the past, rolled the dice with devastating effect, notably Cancellara, who began his ride to victory in 2006 here.
Sunday April 7, 2013
12.00-16.00 LIVE race coverage on British Eurosport HD
01.00-02.00 Race highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD
Monday April 8, 2013
18.30-19.30 Race highlights on British Eurosport 2 HD