Paris-Roubaix. The Hell of the North. The Queen of the Classics. The greatest one-day race of the year. The biggest of the 5 monuments. Whatever you want to call it, this is THE one-day race. The battle goes down this Sunday.
It used to be that the same riders who contested the Three Week Grand Tours would do quite well in Roubaix (Merckx, Bobet, Coppi, et al). But in the modern era, it takes a completely different kind of rider to even think of coming close to the podium. Grand Tour winners of the past 20 years won’t touch it. Just think about that for a moment – Hinault, Indurain, Armstrong, and host of other Tour de France winners don’t even come close. Like the Tour of Flanders last week, Belgians have dominated this race since it’s inception in 1896: Belgium 53, France 28, and it drops from there. This race above all others takes an unworldly threshold for pain and suffering, a quality of toughness that Belgium breeds in its riders.
It’s no secret who’s going well this year. With Ghent-Wevelgem and Flanders in back to back weeks, it’s the same group of riders who stand a chance. If you want to know who to put your money on, just check the top ten from the last 2 weeks: Cancellara, Boonen, Gilbert, Nuyens. But don’t count out Hushovd, Hincapie, Chavanel, Hausler, or Ballan. It won’t be a climber. Not here. Also probably not a pure sprinter like Mark Cavendish. Roubaix dishes out so much pain and suffering that it takes a freakish power monster to arrive in the Velodrome with a chance.
The record for wins stands at 4 (Roger De Vlaeminck) with 7 others holding at 3 wins. Six of those riders hung up their cleats long ago. Only Tom Boonen, with 3 wins to his credit, lines up on Sunday with a chance to make history and join De Vlaeminck in the elite 4x winner club. But let’s not forget American George Hincapie. An American has never won this race and for YEARS Americans have been cheering for George to come through. Second place in 2005 has been the closest he’s come to the top step. Big George has suffered through every kind of bad luck and oppositional tactics that you can possibly imagine. In 2006, with 2 teammates with him in the winning break 30k from the finish, George’s steerer tube broke sending him careening into a ditch. The stars have never quite aligned for him but I hoping this will finally be his year.
Also keep a look out for American Taylor Phinney in his Paris-Roubaix debut. He won the U23 Paris-Roubaix just last year and is suited to this kind of racing. But he may not yet have the power to go the distance with the big dogs.
In case you’re wondering what a pre-Classics PRO Group Ride looks like, here’s a video of BMC getting ready to roll out. Except for the $8,000 bikes, rolling mechanics, team cars, vans, and impeccable kit, it looks just like every other Group Ride roll out: a bunch of skinny dudes standing around waiting for someone to call it out.
Here are a few recommended posts from Velonews to get you going for the race this weekend:
Velonews ran a great collage of Vintage Paris-Roubaix photos from years-gone-by. It’s worth a look to get a sense of the race’s history.
Graham Watson posted his photos of pre-Roubaix training rides on Velonews HERE.
Versus is airing 3 hours coverage of the Queen of the Classics this Sunday starting at 4pm PST.