The Tour of Flanders had us gripped last weekend, but despite much controversy over the new route, the actual racing didn’t disappoint. Several crashes helped carve out the final outcome of the race with favourite Fabian Cancellara being taken out in a feed zone by a stray water bottle. This gave the local legend Tom Boonen an opportunity which he capitalised on carrying on his recent run of success at one day events. With the Tour of Flanders whetting our appetite last weekend the cycling world is gearing up for another weekend of action.
This weekend, we will be transfixed by the ‘Hell of the North!’ The 110th Paris-Roubaix race takes place on Sunday across the sort of terrain that we would think twice about taking a Land Rover across, let alone a carbon clad race bike. The terrain is so infamous that the 1981 winner Bernard Hinault described the race as “stupid” and only raced it one more time in his career.
The route winds its way across the plains of Northern France, then hits the cobbles of the Forest of Arenburg before heading into Roubaix and the iconic finish of the Stade Velodrome.
The great thing about Paris-Roubaix, is that it is a throwback to an era of racing that we rarely see today, a glimpse into the past where finesse and style are pushed aside to make way for grit, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness. The road surfaces often resemble those of a 3rdworld country and the route which will be littered with punctures and crashes will culminate with a finish into a gladiatorial velodrome, where the riders will be greeted with a riot of noise and colour that will be as intimidating as it will be encouraging!
Even the showers are the stuff of legend, where riders caked in mud and grime stand like cattle, being interviewed by the press and reflecting on the race past and as Boonen, three times Paris-Roubaix winner explains:
“when I stand in the showers at the Roubaix Velodrome, that’s when I start preparing for next year’s race.”
Over the years the weather at Paris-Roubaix has been infamous. If it’s not cold, wet and windy, it’s hot and dusty creating some very unpleasant riding conditions. This year forecasts of scattered showers in northern France will turn the dusty roads into a mud bath and this will definitely play a major part in deciding the victor.
The 2011 Paris-Roubaix was certainly one for the history books. Garmin-Cervélo’s Johan Van Summeren rode to victory after making a solo break from a four man group with 15km to go. The domestique hung on by 19 seconds and crossed the line at the velodrome in Roubaix. What made this victory all the more miraculous was the fact that Johan rode the last 5km with a flat rear tyre. Shortly after the race, still caked in grime and muck, Johan proposed to his girlfriend to complete the Belgian’s fairy tale story.
This year the bookies favourite was Cancellara until a rather unfortunate crash at Flanders put him out of the running. After a sterling performance from Boonen over the last few weeks, all eyes will be on the Belgian to see if he can carry on this form of recent. The pressure will certainly be on the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider who seems to be back to the form he showed a few years ago. Mechanical issues and crashes plagued Boonen’s 2011 race and this will certainly be playing at the back of his mind.
In terms of predictions for this year it’s hard to count Boonen out, but this is by no means a one horse race. As always luck can play a major part on the day. Several riders have stood out for PBK over the last few weeks of racing. Katusha’s Oscar Freire, Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan have all shown promise and if they get the roll of the dice on the day, they could find themselves stepping onto that top step of the podium at the Roubaix velodrome.
So there you have it, our race preview and predictions for the 2012 Paris-Roubaix. As always we want to hear from you. What are your predictions? Who’s caught your eye in the last couple of Classics? Can Boonen carry on his impressive run of results?