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Paaris-Roubaix: Repeat Contenders?

With Maggie Backstedt on the sidelines, that reduces the number of former Paris-Roubaix winners making the start in Compiegne Sunday to three: de Peet, Boonen, and presumably Quick Step will send Servais Knaven too. Granted, Boonen is an overwhelming favorite to repeat, but unless he or one of the other two ex-winners  pulls it off, it will continue an unusual trend of new winners.

I'm not sure what this says, but until recent years Paris-Roubaix was long dominated by few riders. Starting in 1961, Rik Van Looy won three times in five years; Eddy Merckx won three of six beginning in '67; Roger De Vlaeminck won four of six ('72-'77); Francesco Moser ushered in the modern race including the Arenberg Trench by reeling off three straight wins ('78-'80); followed by double-winners Kelly ('84 & '86), Madiot ('85 & '91), Duclos-Lasalle ('92-'93); Ballerini ('95 & '98); and finally Museeuw with three wins ('96, 2000, 2002).

From 1961-2002, 24 of 42 races were won by a multiple-winner. [By comparison, during this time de Ronde's 42 editions have been won by 33 different people.] But the last nine Hells of the North have had 8 different winners. In other words, for some reason we have lately been missing a Paris-Roubaix stud, normally a fixture on the landscape. Maybe Boonen will step up here.

It's interesting to ponder why Paris-Roubaix has been held captive by these repeat champs. The race is routinely described as one big trap, where a perfectly respectable rider can find himself in a ditch through no apparent misdeed of his own. In other words, you have to be both good and lucky -- not easily repeated. But Johan Bruyneel, who seems to know a thing or two about Cycling, told the Paceline this week that you don't have to have good luck, you just have to avoid bad luck.

In other words, if you know what you're doing and don't puncture at the worst time, you should be in the mix. Which suggests that, in fact, it is possible to know what to do in Paris-Roubaix. In such an unusual race, some riders have apparently self-selected the specialty of riding hard on really nasty, flat cobbles.

As for the lack of repeat winners... is it because fewer riders are trying to master the cobbles these days? Or because the competition has become so great?

We speculate, you decide.