Just about everyone who loves cycling names this race as their favorite Spring Classic: Paris-Roubaix is only a few short days away. To all my non-cycling friends I explain this race as "my super bowl" a time where for a few short hours, we get to enjoy 200 riders discover new levels of pain through a dusty dirt covered cobbled hell. Roubaix is more a war of attrition than it is a man on man battle. Many a crash/flat tire/railroad crossing have dashed the hopes of aiming for victory. For every Boonen and Cancellara there is a Servais Knaven/Johan Van Summeren. Yes, it literally is a race where anything can happen. As this 2:30 slow motion video indicates, cobbles are a cruel mistress and sap the energy from the hardest of strongmen. It is with all of this in mind we TRY to predict the outcome of the race
Tier 1: The Favorite(s)
Fabian Cancellara: 3 years ago he was pretty much unbeatable. 2 years ago he was just as strong but marked by everyone in the peloton (aka anti-racing - Seth). Last year, his form was great, but he suffered a broken collarbone in Flanders to end his Roubaix hopes. This year, Fab is out for revenge. Fresh off his RvV victory, Fab is the hands down favorite to take home his 3rd cobblestone trophy. His form is not in question, but what is a question is what race will we see? Will he be marked to death like in 2011? Or are we in store for another herculean attack as Fab solos to victory? Keep your Swiss flags ready
I think he is downplaying his form. Yes, he probably was behind schedule due to his elbow, but I remember watching him in Paris-Nice putting serious kms into headwinds, getting his form tuned up. He will be ready. It wouldn’t be fair to expect a repeat from last season, but his team is the strongest of the 3 major favorites. So yeah, about that….Tommeke suffered a stroke of bad luck and will miss Roubaix thus ending his classics campaign. It’s been setback after setback for the King of the Classics.
Tier 2: Always In the mix
Pozzato: Pippo won some races early in his career, and has carried the burden ever since. He’s been close plenty of times, but has been criticized by many as being a wheelsucker. I will say, Pippo did a lot last year to change my opinion of him. After breaking a collarbone early in the year, he reportedly was training the day after surgery, and was RACING a few short weeks later. He then finished 9th at Gent Wevelgem and 2nd in Tour of Flanders, nearly dropping Boonen several times before being outmatched in a sprint. But then in typical fashion, he caused a stupid crash at the Giro and broke his wrist. Done for the year. There was also some Dr Ferrari stuff, but I really don’t have time to get into that now. (I’m saving it for a mega rant). Pippo has looked good this year –tattoos withstanding and I’m pickin him for a Top 5 finish. Things would really have to go his way for him to win, but as we know…they usually don’t.
Flecha: I would never call him a favorite, but look at where he has placed in Roubaix since 2005…go ahead, I’ll wait... Ok, back? Top 10 in 7 out of 8 years you say? Flecha is ALWAYS in the mix, and if he just does happen to win, he has that sweet victory salute: get it? Flecha = Arrow
OPQS Rider of your choice: Take your pick between Chavanel, Terpstra, Stybar with no Boonen, all 3 of them could do well. Chava is all class and will be the team leader, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see any of the other 2 guys do well. I actually think Stybar "breaks through" much like Boom a few years back and finishes between 10-15th.
Hushovd: – Thar she blows…the cobbled white whale! I have already commented on Thor in my BMC team preview, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how
awesome I am. I still don’t get him his job. Like, he has to be a stage hunter now right? Its Paris-Roubaix and stage hunting. That’s it. Anyway..He’s another dude who has been super close but hasn’t won. Back in 2009 he overcooked a corner and then Boonen hit the jets to take the win. Then came the Garmin-Cervelo experiment, where he had to stand by and watch for Johan Van Summeren as Garmin played the breakaway card while Thor was relegated to play good teammate by marking Fab and not chasing. Sure, Thor looks better than he did last year, but his best days are behind him. Would I count him out? No, but if the goal is to win, I think Phinney is the better play for BMC, - can’t say the dude doesn’t deserve another chance. Oh well..
The rest of the bunch: This is a group of dark horses/ personal favs/ and guys made for the classics, I expect these guy to fill up the rest of the placings
Phinney: As you may have noticed already, we have a personal man crush on Phinney. He’s won the u23 Roubaix twice, and he's a monster in the time trials. Kinda sounds like someone else...hmmmm *coughcough*Cancellara*cough*. He is stronger now than he was last year when he finished 14th (and was riding for Thor). Then there was his emotional stage at Tirreno, followed by his under the radar ride at MSR coming out of nowhere to the lead group at the end of the race. I hope BMC gives Taylor full leadership as I’d love to see him on the podium.
Boom: Ex CX world champ, is a total hardo. He’s super powerful, and has been riding well early this year. He Finished 6th last year and Blancobank have a solid classics squad so I expect to see him up towards the front.
Degenkolb: Degenkolb is a tank. This guy was made for the classics. He was 2x silver medal winner in the u23 worlds and finished 4th in the pro worlds last year. Top 10 is possible.
Edvald Boasson Hagen: It wasn’t long ago the Boss Hog was heralded as "the next Eddy Merckx" (Sagan who?) He certainly has the talent to win a classic: he can sprint, he can climb, and he's from Norway..so I assume he trains while listening to black metal in -20 degree weather. Backed by a decent team with Eisel and Stannard.
Sep Vanmarcke: I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen much of this kid but I did see his win at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year when he beat Boonen, and it was impressive. Everything you read about him is that he is the real deal. He’s switching over to Blanco this year, so there is nothing the team would want more than to win a monument to try and wrangle up a new sponsor for next year. His form however is a question, as he’s been hampered by a lil knee injury.
Haussler: Blondie is up there with Matti Breschel (who we will get to next) for "the worst 2 years ever" award. I’m not giving up on him, not just yet. He’s been sniffing around for a podium, and was in he 2nd group at MSR. He was closer last year than people remember. Finishing 2nd to peter Sagan 5 times at the Tour of California. If Sagan isn’t there, then
what would we do with our lives? We would all be talking about how Haussler has resurrected himself. While he isn’t as fast as he used to be, he claims to be climbing better making him more of an all-rounder.
Matti Breschel: Few people in cycling have had worse luck than him the last 2 years. Google "Matti Breschel Injury", and see what pops up (ya, no link. - I'm not doing everything for you) Anyway, he was close to beating Thor Hushovd at Worlds 3 years ago and has tons of talent. If healthy, he could be a factor.
Random other people to watch:
Greg Van Avermaet: I've seen like 3 different start lists so I am not sure if he is riding or not, but he has enough talent to lead his own team. A constant attacker, is usually stirring things up and making things miserable for others...before getting caught by the big dogs.
Jurgen Roelandts: Hardo looked great last week in Flanders. Keep an eye on Lotto, they were super active at RvV and could look to force someones hand.
Luca Paolini: Winner at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad this year, the form is there for the diminutive Italian.
Yoan Offredo: He always stirs the pot, so much so that he actually hired a psychologist to help him to stir the pot less…let’s see how that works out for him.
Martin Elmiger: finished 17th in 2011, and has put up some decent form early in the year
LeopardSchleck: Stijn Deveolder (remember him?) looked good at RvV and young Bobby Jungles has won U23 Roubaix before. He also took a win earlier this year in impressive solo fashion. These dudes will be at Fabs disposal which he'll need if he's going to take another Paris Roubaix win. Regardless of the winner, for most Pro Cycling fans Paris-Roubaix is the transition from Classics-to-Grand-Tour season and an event that cannot be missed.