Last weekend it was the Tour of Flanders that had us gripped. We watched an epic encounter between Fabian Cancellara (Saxo bank) and the home favourite Tom Boonen (Quick Step). Cancellara got away from Boonen on the infamous Kapelmuur climb and with his time trialling skills and sheer power, put over a minute between him and the Belgian to take first place.
This weekend, we will be transfixed by the ‘Hell of the North!’ The 108th Paris-Roubaix race takes place on Sunday across the sort of terrain that we would think twice about taking a Jeep, let alone a top of the range race bike. 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 throw back 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 3rd world 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.”
This year, the 25 teams consist of the usual suspects, with wildcard entries for BMC, Team Sky and Cervelo to name but a few. Astana won’t be there this year, something that Contador probably won’t be too worried about. Boonen will want to make it three in a row and put the disappointment of Flanders behind him. He has stated that he has “always been better at Paris-Roubaix than the Tour of Flanders” and will once again want to arrive into the velodrome in style. He has admitted that he let Cancellara get away on the Muur climb, but will be watching him like a hawk this weekend. One thing is for sure, he’ll relish the chance to sprint to victory and spend his time in the shower, planning his next years Roubaix win. We will be looking at a few riders to watch on Thursday and hope to build on last weeks success in predicting the Flanders key riders.