Funny sport, cycling. Exactly 12 months ago we were pondering whether anyone could prevent Tom Boonen completing the Flanders-Roubaix double for the second time after Fabian Cancellara’s crash in the Belgian Monument ruled him out of the French one. It turned out no-one could. This year, the roles are reversed – it’s Boonen who’s ruled out of Sunday’s race, and Cancellara is seeking to emulate those back-to-back wins for what would be the second time.
Certainly the bookmakers can’t see far beyond the Swiss rider, despite the fact he crashed during Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs and again 24 hours later while undertaking a recce of the pavé with his RadioShack-Leopard team; the Swiss rider is odds-on favourite with pretty much all the bookmakers, an astonishingly short odds given the unpredictability of the race where a crash or puncture in the wrong place can bring your race to an end.
To keep with the betting theme – it is Grand National weekend after all, besides Spartacus it’s 10/1 the field, that being the shortest price you can get on the next two most fancied riders, the BMC pair of Thor Hushovd and Taylor Phinney.
In 2010, the year he won the rainbow jersey, Hushovd was second here and also won the Tour de France stage that that took in some of the secteurs of pavé that will be ridden on Sunday, albeit from the opposite direction. He lost most of last season to a virus, though, and seems a long way short of top form.
Phinney, meanwhile, made his debut in the senior version of the race last year, at the age of 21 – his affinity with the pavé amply demonstrated by the fact that he’s the only rider to have won the under-23 version twice.
12 months ago, he rode in support of the absent Alessandro Ballan, and still finished 15th – on Sunday, he’ll be able to ride his own race. Many believe the popular American, who missed Flanders to ensure he was fully recovered from a knee injury, is a future winner – could it happen this weekend?
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, meanwhile, is a past winner of the junior verison of Paris-Roubaix. He missed last year’s race as he was preparing for the Olympics, and 12 months earlier had an unhappy experience due to a series of crashes.
Unlucky to hit the deck last month at Milan-San Remo and again at the Tour of Flanders, both times when in the group that would produce the winner, the Welshman can certainly challenge if he goes the distance – and Team Sky will be desperate to get a big result as this phase of the Classics season comes to an end.
They certainly have the riders to do it – Bernie Eisel and Edvald Boasson Hagen could both challenge, and Mat Hayman has been a top ten finisher here in each of the past two editions.
It’s Ian Stannard, though, who has been Sky’s star one-day performer in recent weeks, regularly at the front of the race, including leading Milan-San Remo over the Poggio alongside Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel.
At Roubaix last year, Stannard was one of the riders who did most to try and bridge the gap to Boonen as the Belgian headed to an historic fourth victory, and you can expect him to be in the thick of the action come Sunday.
Chavanel himself has been in decent form of late including a stage win at Paris-Nice and that attack with Stannard at Milan-San Remo, and seems the best hope for a first French win since Frédéric Guesdon in 1996.
The best home result since then came with Sébastien Turgot of Europcar claiming second place last year, and he’s back again to try and go one better. He went well in Flanders, as did FDJ’s Matthieu Ladagnou, another rider from whom big things are expected by the locals.
With Boonen out and Guesdon retiring after last year’s race, there are two past winners, besides Cancellara, in the field – Stuart O’Grady and Johan Van Summeren. Of the pair, the latter is the most consistently high finisher, and others who tend to get into the top ten more often than not include Juan Antonio Flecha and Pippo Pozzato.
Here’s a look at the 27 secteurs of pavé that feature on the parcours of Sunday’s 254km race which starts, as it has done every year since 1977, at Compiègne, some 80km north of Paris. You can find the race website, with full information on the route, here.
Secteur Km Place Length Km 27 98.5 Troisvilles to Inchy 2.2 26 105 Viesly to Quiévy 1.8 25 107.5 Quiévy to Saint-Python 3.7 24 112.5 Saint-Python 1.5 23 120 Vertain to Saint-Martin-sur-Écaillon 2.3 22 130 Verchain-Maugré to Quérénaing 1.6 21 133 Quérénaing to Maing 2.5 20 136.5 Maing to Monchaux-sur-Écaillon 1.6 19 149.5 Haveluy to Wallers 2.5 18 158 Trouée d'Arenberg 2.4 17 164 Wallers to Hélesmes 1.6 16 170.5 Hornaing to Wandignies-Hamage 3.7 15 178 Warlaing to Brillon 2.4 14 181.5 Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières 2.4 13 188 Beuvry-la-Forêt to Orchies 1.4 12 193 Orchies 1.7 11 199 Auchy-lez-Orchies to Bersée 2.6 10 205 Mons-en-Pévèle 3.0 9 211 Mérignies to Avelin 0.7 8 214.5 Pont-Thibaut to Ennevelin 1.4 7 220.5 Templeuve (Moulin-de-Vertain) 0.5 6 227 Cysoing to Bourghelles 1.3 6 229.5 Bourghelles to Wannehain 1.1 5 234 Camphin-en-Pévèle 1.8
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.