Of course at a race like Roubaix, where a crash or flat tire can change everything in a split second, there are other, second-tier, favorites to consider. The first to be mentioned is Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Ghent in February. Flecha finished third, behind Cancellara and Boonen, at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke one week prior to Flanders.
Until now, Flecha has been a nearly-man at Roubaix. He finished third behind Boonen and George Hincapie in the Roubaix velodrome in 2005, fourth in 2006 behind a solo Cancellara, and second in 2007 out of a lead group of seven riders. Last year he placed sixth after causing a pileup that took out Leif Hoste and Filippo Pozatto, opening the door for Boonen to take another solo win.
Flecha had an admittedly off-day at Flanders last weekend, finishing last of the first peloton, in 34th place, And even if he has a fantastic day at Paris-Roubaix, in order to finish on the highest step of the podium, Flecha will have to figure out how to contend with Cancellara’s superior strength and Boonen’s superior finishing speed.
“I will just have to adapt to them,” Flecha said Friday. “Ok, one is strong, the other is fast. I will have to adapt. If I am there at the end I won’t just sit on, I will try to beat them. Maybe I will attack, maybe I will get rid of them. Maybe it will be a battle at the velodrome. Obviously Boonen knows that track, and how to win there. I am not going to think about the two or three ways I cannot win. Let’s see how the race goes, and if I’m there for the final, let’s see how it goes at the end. If I have to sprint with Boonen and Cancellara, ok, let’s go for it. I will try to win.”
The other rider figuring into the second-tier of favorites is Pozatto; the Italian demonstrated considerable strength at the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, where he finished fourth after a concerted chase to bring back the winning three-man move. However Pozatto came down with a stomach flu in the days that followed that race and was forced to sit out Flanders with a fever. He returned to competition Wednesday at the GP Scheldeprijs, but maintains his condition is uncertain for Sunday.
“I still feel a little weak, which is normal,” Pozatto told the press Friday. “I’ll have to see how I feel after 200km. I might be good until then, but at closer to 250km, it’s unknown.”
Pozatto, who maintains a close friendship with Boonen in their shared adopted home of Monaco, said he watched Flanders from the couch. In his estimation, Boonen’s calf cramp on the Kappelmuur was the major difference between the Belgian and Swiss riders one week ago.
“Fabian was fantastic, for sure, but Tom was strong too,” Pozatto said. “Tom had bad luck to cramp on the Muur, but Paris-Roubaix it’s different. I think Tom and Fabian have the same possibility to win the race.”
Asked how tactics will play out Sunday, Pozatto said it should be fairly straightforward. “It’s an easy race for tactics because there are two people who are at a higher level than everyone else. There’s also Flecha, because he can be good. If he has the legs and power, when they start to go, he will just follow them.”
Of the many dark-horse picks — including a not-100-percent Hushovd and a perhaps-past-his-prime Hoste — three are well-established names riding for American teams.
Garmin-Transitions will go in with Martin Maaskant and Johan Vansummeren as established top-10 Roubaix finishers and Tyler Farrar coming off field-sprint wins at De Panne and Scheldeprijs. However all eyes will be on David Millar, whose bold, unexpected ride at Flanders revealed a new skill set for the time-trial specialist.
HTC-Columbia is sending an experienced squad to support recent Ghent-Wevelgem winner Bernhard Eisel. “Paris-Roubaix is a race which suits Eisel a little better than the Tour of Flanders, and just like in the Tour of Flanders, we’ll be basing our race strategy around him,” said HTC-Columbia director Tristan Hoffman, a second-place finisher at Roubaix in 2004.
And at almost 37, sentimental favorite George Hincapie (BMC Racing) is showing little sign of slowing down. He finished fourth at Ghent-Wevelgem two weeks ago, and sixth at Flanders last weekend after watching the selection go up the road on the Molenberg.
“I think I deserve to be one of the favorites,” Hincapie told VeloNews Thursday. “I still believe I can win a Flanders or Roubaix. It’s kind of motivating that (European media) would count me out of those sorts of races. The riders don’t count me out. If you see, they won’t let me go, and they have a ton of respect for what I’ve done and they know I’m a factor to deal with at all points. To me, at the end of the day, that’s what’s important.”
And basing Roubaix favorites from Flanders performances doesn’t always equate, Hinapie said. “Roubaix is a totally different race. There are no climbs, so you might see guys at the front at Roubaix that you didn’t see at Flanders, guys that don’t go uphill very well but have a ton of power on the flats. There’s always a different group of riders that weren’t there in Flanders that you have to deal with at Roubaix.” (more …)