What's Cool In Road Cycling

Paris-Roubaix06: Preview From Hell

She’s back again, this time for the 110th Anniversary of the first running, and interestingly enough, the cobbled sections are probably in exactly the same condition as they were over a century ago – perhaps worse. Indeed, Paris-Roubaix is the greatest anachronism in pro cycling, perhaps in all of sport – she’s also arguably the toughest, meanest, evillest beast in all of bike racing.

259 Km, 52.7 Km Of Stone
Paris-Roubaix will once again not start in Paris, but rather in a suburb north of the City of Light: Compiegne. From there, the course winds ever northward over dreary, some might call it desolate, northeastern France.

The race’s popular name, the Hell of the North (l’enfer Du Nord) was actually coined immediately following the First World War, as the race followed the front lines of the war going north from Paris through the craters, destruction, and ruin left behind after what was then deemed to be the War To End All Wars.

The Hell of the North still carries with it some kind of ominous rememberance of what happened nearly a century ago. There’s something about this part of northern France, which does not fit in the normal pleasant countryside. Then again, how could it?

Not much to it – Compiegne to Roubaix – with a few cobbled sections in the way, nothing too tough, right?

The race should remain calm and pleasant for the first 100 km – giving you plenty of time to get yourself signed up for Cycling.TV’s premium coverage and tuned into the race when the cobbles hit. And will they hit…the race slams oh so unpleasantly into Sector 27 at Troisvilles after 100 km on their march northward to Roubaix. After Troisvilles, it’s sector after sector of cobbles – 27 sectors in all, 52.7 km – nearly 1 out of every 3 km after the first sector will be on some sort of awful impersonation of road, some worse than others, but none worse than…

Leif Hoste leads the race out of the Foret D’Arenberg two years ago.

The Foret D’Arenberg
The infamous sector of pave, which some would argue is a euphemism for the ridiculous nature of the path took a year off last year due to its slovenly state – but it’s back for more fun in 2006. The Arenberg Trench has historically caused the first real selection in the race, as it occurs about 100 km from the finish. Interestingly enough, another fearsome section in Spring Classic lore occurs around this point at the Tour of Flanders: the Koppenberg.

The Forest Of Arenberg presents a nasty obstacle and one that especially stands out, as they are all tough, some exceedingly tough, but Arenberg is above and beyond all others. If you’ve ever watched the race on video or DVD, you can attest to it as well. The riders appear as if they have very nearly run into a brick wall, the bike bucks and runs as if no one is attached.

If you listen to the people that have ridden it, it’s described as nearly unrideable. In short: it’s a damn fine stretch of road, and any edition of the race without it is missing a little something.

This year’s edition probably won’t see too much dust.

Only The Strong (And Lucky) Will Survive
Paris-Roubaix presents an interesting task for the hopeful starter. As Rolf Sorensen mentioned last week in his intriguing discussion with Edmond Hood – the winner of Paris-Roubaix is undoubtedly the strongest. There is not too terribly much going on over the business end of the race – the game is to go hard, then harder, and at some point, be there when all hell breaks loose.

Of course, some luck is involved. The cobbles are absolute flat inducers, and it is a fortunate rider who can manage to avoid flatting during the all-important finishing stages of the race. Everyone remembers Johan Museeuw’s untimely flat two years ago when he had made the winning break in his final Paris-Roubaix.

The cobbles present a unique challenge for the riders of the 21st century – a challenge dating back to the Napoleonic Era.

When NOT To Flat
Not so many people remember that Peter Van Petegem flatted before that, and showed afterwards that he was the strongest rider in the race, by far, as he made up gobs of ground on everyone and very nearly came back to join the leading group. Flats won’t kill a race for the most part, but coming in the closing stages – it’s game over.

This wreck effectively ended all hopes PVP had at a win in Roubaix for 2005.

Try To Avoid That Wreck, Ok?
The cobbles will do their work on the field, as hordes of riders will be dispatched as the race nears Roubaix. The eventual winner will not only have the cobbles and flats to contend with, but the eventual wreck, which will happen, and often takes riders down on numerous occasions throughout the race, but somehow, it always seems that the winner manages to avoid these snafus.

Last year, once again Peter Van Petegem ran into some nasty luck and was taken out of the race by a huge wreck about midway through.

What Does The Weatherman Say?
A lot depends on the weather day of, but also leading up to the race. This year, it looks like the weather will promise rain for Friday and Saturday, with Sunday apparently bright and sunny with only moderate breezes. This should still cause a rather muddy edition, especially if it rains all day Saturday, there shouldn’t be too much hope of dust, that’s for sure.

The race defining selection went down in 2005 with around 40 km to go.

The Contendahs
Um, Tom Boonen anyone? Unibet.com has odds on Big Bad Boonen as 2.5 to 1! Those are incredible odds for a One-Day race, especially one as unpredictable as Paris-Roubaix. Odds don’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things, but numbers like that are indeed indicative of what everyone already knows: Tom Boonen is damn near unbeatable.

Tom Boonen was without question the man in 2005, and is even moreso in 2006 – George Hincapie is looking better than ever though.

If Boonen can manage to get through the race without any rotten luck, it’ll be a huge surprise if he does not win – and if he doesn’t win, there will be a high probability that one of his teammates will win. The Quick.Step team for Sunday’s Hell of the North is a juggernaut, a team that could very well stack the selection and allow Quick.Step to play multiple cards in the finale – not just Boonen’s.

Quick.Step’s squad will arguably be stronger for Paris-Roubaix than at Flanders.

Spring Classic hard luck case Davitamon-Lotto, also has a team tailor-made for Paris-Roubaix. Peter Van Petegem will be the top dog, but he will have incredible support from battle hardened cobbled specialists, and also a few other riders on fantastic form at the moment: Bert Roesems and Gert Steegmans, not to mention Top 10 in last year’s edition, Leon Van Bon. If Van Petegem could just get a little bit of luck this year, he’ll be on the podium. He’ll need good luck to beat Boonen though.

Bert Roesems fancies his chances in Roubaix on Sunday.

Tension in the Davitamon-Lotto camp has to be insanely high at the moment, even wives are cracking. After Flanders last week, Peter Van Petegem’s wife had a veritable come apart at the press conference: “What a shit team. Tell me where the rest of the team was? All this criticism about my husband have deeply affected me. It’s hard to always hear that Peter only rides one week a year. Let them come to our house for 15 days to see the work done by my husband every day.”

If you’re looking for a contender, PVP is the man.

Don’t Forget About Discovery
Discovery has two riders at the moment that appear to be on the form of their lives: George Hincapie and Leif Hoste. Both are absolutely raging and should be very well-supported come Sunday’s finale. As long as luck remains reasonably on their side, both should find their way in some way, shape, or form in contention.

Leif Hoste went pull for pull with Tom Boonen last week and showed himself able…not so much though in the sprint.

The list of possibles following these big time favorites is long. CSC has a good stable of contenders, with 2004’s runner-up Fabian Cancellara (8th in 2005) and 5th place Lars Michaelsen from 2005. Michaelsen was tailed off the winning break in the waning kilometers of the race, so will be looking to take it all the way this year.

Last year’s third placed Juan Antonio Flecha moved from Fassa Bortolo to the orangemen of Rabobank and could very well threaten this weekend. He has had a rather quiet Spring results-wise, but continually promises for something big – he always seems to be there when it counts.

Thor Hushovd is obviously a name to watch this weekend after his huge win on Wednesday in Gent-Wevelgem – he hasn’t yet quite contended at Paris-Roubaix, but that should be no excuse not to do well in 2006. Steffen Wesemann would normally be one of the top 5 favorites, because he’s that strong and that consistent, but he’s just getting over a viral infection, which would make it an incredible ride if he’s able to contend on Sunday.

Make sure to keep it PEZ all weekend, as we’ll have stories from the front lines, pictures, reports, anything and everything.

Watch It Live:
Cycling.TV will broadcast the race live on the internet Sunday – a great viewing option for readers in North America. You’ll have to sign up for their Premium Channel, but the fee also gets you access to over 50 live races this year – a bargoon at any price really.

For more fun, head to www.JeredGruber.com

Like PEZ? Why not subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive updates and reminders on what's cool in road cycling?

Comments are closed.