PARIS — Ask any of the riders and team officials involved who is going to win Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix and one name stands out above all others — Fabian Cancellara.
The 32-year-old Swiss rider, nicknamed “Spartacus” due to his power and resilience, is an overwhelming favorite for a third victory in the race, having completely dominated last weekend’s Tour of Flanders.
Paris-Roubaix, the most grueling and arguably the most popular of the spring classics, takes riders on a 256.5km campaign over cobbles and climbs from leafy Compiegne to the finish in the Roubaix velodrome.
Cancellara, winner in 2006 and 2010, is aiming to become the 12th rider to pull off the Flanders-Roubaix double after a crash in last year’s Flanders took him out of both races with a broken collarbone.
Even two bad falls in as many days this week, notably on Thursday when he and his RadioShack team went on the traditional reconnaissance of the race route, will not have shaken his resolve.
Coming hard on the heels of a nasty fall in Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs, Thursday’s setback saw Cancellara take refuge in the team car for 15km before resuming the training ride to the finish.
The previous day, he was able to finish the final 60km of the race.
“It’s not ideal,” he conceded on Friday, “but overall I’m happy to be sitting here and not in a hospital bed like I was last year.
“A lot of people are talking about me as the favorite, but we’ll see how it turns out.”
Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida), who has race ambitions of his own, reflects the general opinion when he says Cancellara will be the man to beat.
“All eyes will be on him,” the 31-year-old Venetian said.
Lotto Belisol’s Jurgen Roelandts, third in Flanders, says he feels his best hope of victory is a slip-up by the Swiss rider.
“Like the Tour of Flanders, my aim is to anticipate an attack from Cancellara,” he said. “He’s difficult to beat if he hasn’t got a problem, but it’s up to us to make him make that mistake.”
Frederic Guesdon, former winner of the race and sporting director of the French FDJ team, said Cancellara is physically “head and shoulders above everyone else. For sheer strength, he’s unbeatable!”
Dominique Arnould of Europcar agrees.
“He is a level above everyone else. The problem is he rides faster than any of the five riders behind him,” he said.
But his rivals need not despair entirely. In 2011 Cancellara also was stronger than anyone in Flanders, but wound up third at the finish behind Nick Nuyens and Sylvain Chavanel. A week later, despite dominating Paris-Roubaix, he lost out in the final run-in to Johan Vansummeren.
“The only possible tactic is to isolate him,” Arnould said. “But that means setting off from way out and make all his teammates work by battling to eliminate them.”
Pozzato, who was second to Tom Boonen in the 2009 Paris-Roubaix but has had a disappointing season so far, still hopes to redeem himself after finishing 44th in Flanders.
“I’ve got to be more competitive than last week,” he said. “At the start of the season I set myself three targets: Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders and the Paris-Roubaix. This is my last chance.”
One man who will not be troubling Cancellara, though, is defending champion Boonen, who with compatriot Roger de Vlaeminck holds the record of four wins. The Belgian national champion is out with a broken rib picked up in a fall in last week’s Tour of Flanders and will be sidelined for three weeks.