Part of what always gets me so worked up about the classics is the drama of a one-day race, where just about anything can happen. All the glory goes to the winner, while another guy who was every bit as good has to wait 364 days for another shot, when once again fate could deal him a pitiless hand: brought down from behind in a crash, flat tire, mistimed sprint... you name it. The classics, they are fickle.
Milano-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders play this bit all the way. For every Boonen or Freire winning there's a Nick Nuyens or Simon Gerrans taking the prize and a top ten full of Heinrich Hausslers and Giacomo Nizzolos. 'That's cycling," the riders say. Most of the time it's true. But not at Paris-Roubaix. Victory in hell is about as random as the Tour de France.
Some numbers, before poor Ursula goes into withdrawal... a la Flip!
Here's a list of winners and their former best placements:
- 2011: Johan Van Summeren (5th, 2009)
- 2010: Fabian Cancellara (1st, 2006)
- 2009: Tom Boonen (1st, 2008)
- 2008: Tom Boonen (1st, 2006)
- 2007: Stuart O'Grady (16th, 1997)
- 2006: Fabian Cancellara (4th, 2004)
- 2005: Tom Boonen (3rd, 2002)
- 2004: Magnus Backstedt (7th, 1998)
- 2003: Peter Van Petegem (2nd, 2000)
- 2002: Johan Museeuw (1st, 2000)
- 2001: Servais Knaven (12th, 2000)
- 2000: Museeuw (1st, 1996)
- 1999: Andrea Tafi (2nd, 1998)
- 1998: Franco Ballerini (1st, 1995)
- 1997: Frederic Guesdon (14th, 1996)
And so on. Rarely does anyone even get on the podium without having previously shown something in this race. [See the grid here.] And the winners who hadn't been top five before? O'Grady was teammates with the defending champion Cancellara, who was being watched like a hawk that day. Knaven was followed home by another group of two escapees before the first non-Mapei rider appeared. You can Devolder the field, but you can't surprise them. Or you can Gweesdom them:
1997 Paris Roubaix (via SmithersMpls)
For the record, ghee-don is a more accurate way of pronouncing Fredereic Guesdon's surname. Anyway, you can pip the favorites in a large sprint, in theory. Maybe someone can tell the story of 1997 in a little more detail. That's the last time we were truly surprised in this race.
OK, so knowing that, who are you picking to win?