Still basking in the glow of having predicted the top three of last week’s Tour of Flanders – in the correct order, may we add – we’re not going to do the sensible thing and quit while we’re ahead.
Instead, we’ve assessed the form and come up with how we think the top 10 will look like when they arrive at the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday afternoon.
1 TOM BOONEN
Belgium / Quick Step / Age 29
Best Paris-Roubaix: 1st in 2005, 2008, 2009
It’s round three of the classic showdown between Boonen and Cancellara, with the Swiss leading two-nil after wins in Harelbeke and Ninove. So why are we so confident Boonen will win in Roubaix? Because Cancellara will find it harder to drop him on the cobbles than he did on the Muur at Flanders last Sunday. As Boonen said: “I will try to stay with him, there is no need to make a one-man show. I will try to beat him in the sprint and I won’t let him go free because if I do there will be no bringing him back.” And if Boonen wins, he will equal Roger De Vlaeminck’s record of four wins.
2 FABIAN CANCELLARA
Switzerland / Saxo Bank / 29
Best Paris-Roubaix: 1st in 2006
If Cancellara sees the opportunity to ride away from Boonen, he will take some stopping, but Boonen is right when he says he can allow the Saxo Bank man to do all the riding. Sure, Cancellara can sit back and say ‘Well, I won the Tour of Flanders, you need to win more than me’ but it won’t quite work like that because he will want victory here as well. If the remarkable scenario happens and Boonen and Cancellara are heading towards the velodrome together, it’ll be harder to spring the late surprise he managed at Harelbeke for the simple reason that the last kilometre is all on the Roubaix track.
3 JOHAN VAN SUMMEREN
Best Paris-Roubaix: 5th in 2009
Belgium / Garmin-Transitions / 29
If his progress over the past two years is anything to go by, Van Summeren will be on the podium. Eighth in 2008, fifth last year… As Jonathan Vaughters pointed out, the Belgian’s performance at Paris-Roubaix was largely overlooked. With Martijn Maaskant below the level of the past couple of years, Van Summeren could become Garmin’s best card.
4 JUAN ANTONIO FLECHA
Best Paris-Roubaix: 2nd in 2007
Spain / Team Sky / 32
Team Sky were delighted when Flecha won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but recent history has always told us that it’s very difficult to maintain that spike of form and turn it into victory at the Tour of Flanders or Paris-Roubaix. Only twice in the past 35 years has the winner of the Omloop gone on to win at Flanders or Roubaix (Museeuw at Roubaix in 2000 and Ballerini also at Roubaix in 1995). Flecha will be strong, as will Sky, but they can’t afford a repeat of last week’s mistakes at Flanders. There they were all show and no dough. Strong when they didn’t need to be, nowhere when it mattered. Flecha could certainly get third place on the podium but perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Sky’s performance will be how Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard do.
5 ROGER HAMMOND
Best Paris-Roubaix: 3rd in 2004
Great Britain / Cervélo / 36
With Heinrich Haussler out, and Thor Hushovd slow coming to the boil, Roger Hammond could be Cervélo’s best bet for a place on the podium. There’s no doubt he’s tough and experienced enough to get an excellent result. Win it? Well, take Boonen and Cancellara out of the equation and suddenly the field isn’t half as daunting for someone like Hammond. The gamble for Hammond will be to pick the right moves to go with, knowing that he can’t mark everything, and hope they get away.
6 MATTI BRESCHEL
Best Paris-Roubaix: 10th in 2009
Denmark / Saxo Bank / 25
Angry after being given the wrong bike by his team car at Flanders last week, can he channel that into a big result? There’s no sign his anger was directed at Cancellara so there’s no suggestion he will ride against his team-mate, but he may be an unchained force now.
7 GEORGE HINCAPIE
Best Paris-Roubaix: 2nd in 2005
USA / BMC Racing / 36
There’s a school of thought that says Hincapie is going to keep riding until he wins Paris-Roubaix. Some American fans seem to think it is a birthright that means Hincapie will eventually get his hands on the cobblestone. His second place behind Boonen five years ago is the best of a string of top results. He’s had misfortune too. He toppled into a ditch one year and his Trek bike collapsed under him another time. Last Sunday’s performance shows he’s a lot better than anyone had anticipated him being, so the podium is a possibility.
8 BERNHARD EISEL
Best Paris-Roubaix: 5th in 2006
Austria / HTC-Columbia / 29
The Ghent-Wevelgem winner is a bona-fide favourite partly because he is HTC-Columbia’s leader. He can handle the cobbles, he taught Mark Cavendish a lot about energy-saving, and he’s got a great sprint.
9 FILIPPO POZZATO
Best Paris-Roubaix: 2nd in 2009
Italy / Katusha / 28
There are doubts about the Italian’s strength following his illness but being sick won’t have affected his race form. So if he’s recovered from the bug, he’ll be the dangerous lurker, the joker in the pack.
10 STEVE CHAINEL
Best Paris-Roubaix: Outside time limit 2009
France / BBOX Bouygues Telecom / 26
Every year there are one or two surprising names in the Paris-Roubaix top ten. This year, look out for Steve Chainel. The Frenchman has been on fire this spring. Fourth at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, won a stage at the Three Days of De Panne and was strong at Flanders.
Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma) – Truly, Hoste is this generation’s Peter Van Petegem. Invisible for most of the year, hot for eight days in April. Rode his own race at Flanders last week, which can’t have amused his team-mate Gilbert.
Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) – Has the added complication of being Tom Boonen’s team-mate to contend with.
Marcus Burghardt (BMC) – With Ballan suspended from racing by BMC while the Italians investigate him, Burghardt steps up to be their joint leader with Hincapie.
Andreas Klier (Cervélo) – Not as strong as in previous springs but vital help for Hushovd and Hammond.
Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) – Some may be surprised the Mighty Thor has not made our top ten. He’s been slow coming to the boil this season. Maybe he’s been saving everything for Roubaix, in which case, he could win it.
Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Transitions) – Not as good as he was last year or the year before. Roubaix is a strange race and he could come to the fore again.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) – Getting better at these races with every week. Could win it in the future but not yet.
Manuel Quinziato and Aleksandr Kuchynski (Liquigas) – Outsiders who will have to be have the rest worried if they get away.
Sebastian Langeveld and Lars Boom (Rabobank) – Need to get some sort of result here. Virtually invisible last week.
2010: The Big Preview