Sunday marks the 111th running of Paris-Roubaix, the oldest and most storied of the Spring Classics bike races. Here are ten storylines to follow:
1. Spartacus, aka Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Nissan Trek), is out!
The two-time winner suffered a Classics-ending collarbone fracture last Sunday while trying to conquer the Tour of Flanders. Here is what this means to Paris-Roubaix: the race is wide open. Over the years Cancellara has proven that he is the strongest (albeit not the most tactically intelligent) rider throughout the Classics campaign. With him out the other teams can concentrate on their stars and not on marking Spartacus. Look for other teams to pull out all the stops with their strongest riders.
Who says cycling isn’t a contact sport?
2. Thor Hushovd (BMC Racing) wants to win this race…bad
Last year the God of Thunder’s personal ambitions fell victim to team tactics while at Garmin-Cervelo. He was forced to watch in vain as teammate Johan Vansummeren limped his way into the Roubaix Velodrome on a flat tire and won the Hell of the North. Now with a new team (BMC Racing), Hushovd wants to prove that he can conquer the cobbles and hoist the (massive) trophy over his head. Paris-Roubaix has eluded Hushovd’s victory list, so a win on Sunday would put icing on a stellar career. Keep an eye out for Thor laying down the hammer towards the middle of the race.
3. BMC Racing needs to put up some results
Earlier this year BMC Racing was given the dubious title of “Dream Team” for their all-star roster that was put together after last season. So far, this has proven to be cycling’s version of the “Madden Curse.” You would expect a roster that includes Thor Hushovd, Alessandro Ballan, Taylor Phinney, and last year’s Classics hero Philippe Gilbert to be putting up some massive numbers, but alas, nothing. Ballan has had a few podium finishes, but overall the team has bonked (just like Hushovd did at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad). Their season is already being called a bust, but a big win here could turn it all around.
4. Lars Boom (Rabobank)
Last year, the former Cyclocross World Champion absolutely CRUSHED the 2.4 km section of the Arenberg Forest. How fast was he going? He went into the forest at the leader of the peloton and left as a solo breakaway. He has some serious power and his experience riding in terrible conditions will give him an edge if all Hell breaks loose.
5. Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing)
One would be forgiven to call Phinney a newcomer to Paris-Roubaix. He has never ridden with the Elite Men. He has, though, won the Under-23 Paris-Roubaix…twice…back-to-back. This kid is a stud, plain and simple. He has all of the traits to become a star on the international circuit. He may not be the leader of BMC, but if team tactics break down and he keeps his cool, he could put in a great showing.
6. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step)
Easily the most exciting person to watch this year. Despite being a favorite to win lots of races over the last few years, Boonen has not produced consistent results. 2012, though, has been a career-defining year for the crafty Belgian. He has already sprinted to victory on four stage race stages, placed second at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, won Ghent-Wevelgem, won E3 Prijs Harelbeke, and took his record-tying third victory at the Tour of Flanders. He has been riding a lot this year. His legs may be a bit tired, but Boonen has won here three times before so he knows the cobbles as well as anyone. With Cancellara out, Boonen is obviously the man to beat, look for all of the contending teams to mark him up and not allow him to break away.
7. Arenberg Forest (86km from finish)
2.4km of the biggest, sharpest cobbles you can imagine. The organizers of Paris-Roubaix rate the 27 cobbled sections on a scale of one to five stars, five being the most difficult. This is a five-star section. It will destroy anyone that dares disrespect it. In fact, Tom Boonen’s race was ended here last year when his bike simply stopped working. Watch the peloton get jittery in the kilometers leading up to the Arenberg and look for the most confident riders to be hammering at the front.
8. Rain in the forecast
The forecast for Roubaix calls for rain on Sunday. What does this mean? Oh nothing, just complete chaos for 258 kilometers. If it begins to pour look for all team tactics to be thrown out and for the race to devolve into an every man for himself slugfest. Only the hardest of men will conquer a rain-soaked day. Heck, maybe George Hincapie will get his long-overdue win in these circumstances (not only is he a Classics-specialist, he seems to shine when the sun doesn’t).
9. Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Barracuda)
The youngster from Garmin-Barracuda blast onto the scene this year with an impressive tactical victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. He was outnumbered by Omega Pharma – Quick-Step and Team Sky yet managed to whittle the group down by attacking at the right moment and clinched victory by beating Tom Boonen in a heads-up sprint to the line. Don’t take your eyes off him on Sunday. Garmin may try to put him in a breakaway to preserve teammate (and defending champ) Johan Vansummeren’s chances, but don’t be surprised if this young man’s powerful engines carry him to victory.
10. Dirk Hofman Motorhomes
If you can spot it you earn 7,381 NCB Points. Points are non-transferable and good at all NCB restaurants nationwide. Please note: we do not have any restaurants, nor are we allowed to give out points. Good Luck!