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Cobbles Power Poll: Pre-Hell Edition

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Powerpoll_mediumWe're packing off to Roubaix and Paris today, with some stops along the route for a closer examination. Not sure about whether we'll be riding those stones, though when it comes to riding "maybe" usually means "yes." Anyway, I've got time for half a power poll, so here goes. And here is the last one.

1. (1) Saxo Bank ↔

Then: "Simply put, Breschel has been incredible, and Cancellara is back to his old self, after some bad luck the last couple years."

Now: Breschel's bike remains the only thing standing between them and a sweep of all the races they actually chased after (throwing out token appearances in Driedaagse and Scheldeprijs). One item of note: if Breschel loses out at a chance for the Roubaix podium due to a mechanical -- naw, that never happens -- does it warrant an investigation into his relationship with the Gods of Cycling? And will Breschel go to a place of anger and misery from which he can't return? Anyway, the sandbagging has begun: Tony was at a beer-pouring with his new supporters club near Antwerp talking about how he's no longer 100% but will do what he can.

2. (5) BMC ↑

Then: "Ballan has undergone a lot of changes -- the world title, illness, new team, etc. -- so it's really hard to know if his anonymous spring indicates a real struggle or just a different approach. George Hincapie, on the other hand, looks as ready as possible. I could easily see him on a podium in the next ten days."

Now: Hincapie continues to look very strong, and Paris-Roubaix is his thing. Those second chase group appearances could improve to the head of the race come Sunday. I know the riders all think "we've got three strong guys, we'll see..." but there can't be anything wrong with knowing who your strongest guy is (Hink) and telling Ballan and Burghardt to see what you've got, make sure George is OK, and if you can carry it through to Roubaix, all the better. I wouldn't call either of those guys "bad" by any means, even if they've been quieter than one might hope.

3. (2) Quick Step ↓

Then: "[Boonen] still looks like a solid bet for Flanders, for reasons I have previously discussed (god's gift to power climbs; sprinting ability; tailwind after the Muur prevents Cancellara from stomping him on run-in), and maybe Devolder's demotion will work in his favor, simplifying things a bit, and leaving Tommeke to make his own race."

Now: It's tempting to bump them down even further, as their season is on the verge of utter misery from which only a Green Jersey in July could provide temporary relief. Weylandt is banged up (thanks for the correction), Devolder is at war with himself and everyone else, and Boonen was clearly second-strongest Sunday to a guy who hasn't spent nearly as much of himself this spring, meaning the situation between Tommeke and Tony isn't likely to reverse itself. But second-strongest he is, and it's sad to think that Boonen's powerful, aggressive riding of the last two months could go "unrewarded." [Except with a VDS title, that is.] Anyway, a lot of teams would feel quite good about themselves with a Tom Boonen around.

4. (7) Garmin ↑

Then: "Farrar, meanwhile, looked good in his first Gent-Wevelgem and is sure to benefit from the experience. Martijn Maaskant has been quiet, finishing well back in Wevelgem over the weekend after joining the attack for a while. It's hard not to wonder where his form is, but unless he's been sick, one would have to assume he'll suddenly turn it on again over the weekend. Overall, they haven't caught fire in 2010 yet, but maybe it's Millar's turn to light the match."

Now: Robbie McEwen gave a very interesting take on Tyler Farrar on Sporza yesterday, saying that he's not a pure sprinter but a guy who's really strong and can manage a blazing sprint as a result (more like a Boonen, though let's not go there yet). I know I'm a total homer when it comes to Tyler, but he's earning my fanhood, and his transition to a classics hardman is one of the truly interesting developments of the season. [How many other top ten ranked guys have successfully remade themselves lately?] The rest of the team is a bit of a mystery. Maaskant still hasn't produced much, though IIRC he had horrible luck last Sunday. He dropped a bit early yesterday, hopefully just saving himself for Hell. Van Summeren isn't too far off and is still a medium-longshot for the win, giving Garmin its compliment of options. They haven't taken Flanders by storm, but over the last week the clouds have been gathering.

5. (3) Katusha ↓

Then: "Kudos to the team for throwing everyone into de Ronde: McEwen, Kirchen, Ivanov, etc. Oh, and a good omen, Katusha drew the #3 car slot, well ahead of Quick Step, Saxo and Omega, for Sunday."

Now: Eh, right. I guess Ivanov managed to get there but Pippo was home in Italy sipping broth. He's returned and was spotted happily turning over the pedals yesterday, but whether he has that last full measure of strength he'll need to duplicate last year's podium is one of the bigger questions headed into Compiegne. If so, I do like the looks of his support squad, including Bandiera and Vandebergh, though it's hard to imagine Ivanov not getting bounced around pretty good. He hasn't done the race since 2005, and I would chalk up his appearance here to some pretty significant team spirit. Or just loving a good hard day in the saddle. 

Don't forget about: In no particular order, Omega Pharma (Hoste et al), Cervelo Test Team (Hushovd, Hammond), Liquigas (Oss, Quinziato), Rabobank (Langeveld, Boom), Sky (Flecha, Arvesen, Hayman), Columbia (Eisel, Hansen, Sieberg).