Strange race today... but for long-time fans, a pretty satisfying result, as well-liked and respected vet Stuart O'Grady notched CSC's second consecutive win going away at Paris-Roubaix. O'Grady used his experience, superb form (top 10 at MSR and Flanders) and tolerance for the unusually hot weather to launch off the front for a winning 25-km time trial, slightly longer than his more heat-sensitive teammate Fabien Cancellara managed alone in winning last year.
When O'Grady attacked a small group at the front, shortly after ditching the big-names including Cancellara, it confirmed the surprise of the day: that the uber-strong Cancellara didn't have it. Cance was quick to say first that the heat killed him and secondly that he didn't much care given who won. Post-race quotes are slowly trickling in, but it will be VERY interesting to see who else among the April stars -- all schooled on cold, wet April cycling -- found today's 80+ temps too much to bear. A few more thoughts:
- Weird day for the defending champ, who was also involved in at least two punctures, one of which caused a pileup in the Forest of Arenberg. Bad juju?
- We always hear that the strongest guy won, and yet the guys routinely regarded as the strongest of late -- Boonen, Cance, Devolder, Hoste, Ballan, etc. -- saw themselves blitzed by a huge escape in the first hour that they never really reeled in. All day, a cast of secondary strongmen and other non-favorites were at the head or in the main chase group, with the bigger names behind. I'm sure we'll hear more about the weather, but the result also points out that the difference between the strongest and the next wave or two isn't that great. The number five guy at CSC or T-Mobile or Discovery is powerful as a freaking ox. So it doesn't take much more than a seemingly minor change in circumstances (e.g. the weather) to upend the race.
- That said, if the heads of state weren't undone by the weather, then they are guilty of lack of tactics. Maybe CSC and a few others were content to watch since they had guys up the road, but Disco, Lotto, and probably T-Mobile should've put on more of a chase. Nothing ever seemed to get organized. Bad show.
- On the bright side: when the big names can't make up ground on Flecha, Schierlinckx, Hammonds and the other primary chasers, it tends to argue against the ever-present suspicions of doping. Lots of guys looked pretty human today.
- One last, somewhat negative note: CSC seem to always be holding multiple aces. By contrast, T-Mobile had three guys in the mix at the time O'Grady attacked, but T-Mobile, while always holding multiple cards, seem to only have jacks.