Hell of the North. Queen of the Classics. This Sunday’s 112th Paris-Roubaix could be a record-breaking edition or the setting for a surprise winner.
Treacherous, bone-jarring, teeth-rattling and spirit-sapping, this parcours is not for the meek – or the stick-thin – and Lady Luck needs to be smiling upon you if you have any hope of giving a victory salute in the Roubaix velodrome. In order to raise the cobblestone trophy over your head in victory, you have to ride 257km, including 28 sections of pavé.
Rated in difficulty between one (easiest) and five (hardest), the cobbled sections start 97.5km into the race, with the first of the three five-star sections, the iconic Trouée d’Arenberg, laying in wait at the 161.5km to go mark. The tension builds as the peloton nears Arenberg, as many a rider’s dreams have been punctured and crushed riding through this slippery, jagged-toothed stretch of road. If you have a mishap here, you can kiss the trophy goodbye.
Dusty, ever-changing and ridden fast, the race is constantly throwing up challenges for riders so you need to be focused the whole time. It also sustains the difficulty almost until the end with last five-star stretch, Carrefour, just 17km from the finish. Then it’s on to the velodrome and arms aloft.
- If Fabian Cancellara wins Sunday’s race, he will be the only rider in history to have done the Flanders-Roubaix double three times.
- If Tom Boonen wins, he will become the only rider to have won the race five times.
- It hasn’t rained on Roubaix Sunday since 2002, according to an excellent post by InnerRing. The weather forecast has it sunny again this year.
Who to watch
The short-odds favourite is Fabian Cancellara and even I realise we don’t need to go on about his chances. Here are a few riders who will be trying to keep him from hitting the finish line first.
Revenge will be on the minds of the two other podium finishers from last week’s Ronde: Greg van Avermaet (BMC) and Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin). GVA lost out to Ian Stannard in Omloop het Nieuwsblad and Cancellara in Flanders in sprint finishes, even though on paper he should have won both – surely a sore spot for the Belgian rider.
Vanmarcke, on the other hand, seems to be unusually susceptible to Spartacus’s Jedi mind tricks, losing to him in Flanders and in a heartbreaking final in Roubaix last year, and he will be desperate to show that he is not scared of the big Swiss. His classics season so far has been stellar with top-five finishes at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne (third), Flanders (third), Omloop (fourth), Gent-Wevelgem (fourth) and E3 Harelbeke (fifth).
Omega Pharma-Quick Step will again have an embarrassment of riches with Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar et al but will they be embarrassed again as in Flanders with the no-show on the podium?
Sky’s Geraint Thomas has said he will be riding for Edvald Boasson Hagen, yet surely with the absence of Stannard G is the strongest and best hope of a decent result in this race – if he can stay on his bike. Bradley Wiggins has made a big noise about targetting this race and he made a decent run of Flanders but he will need astonishing luck to finish on the podium, as this race is most often won by riders who take the classics seriously and ride the majority of them every year.
Johan Vansummeren, 2011’s Roubaix victor, will be riding this Sunday after his horrific crash in Flanders. In perhaps one of the most poignant stories of the year, road.cc reports that the husband of the woman Vansummeren crashed into has said that he hopes Johan wins and dedicates the race victory to his wife, who is still in a medically-induced coma.
Link: Official website
Header image: © Jered Gruber