So rather than rehash the past, let's get an early jump on predicting next year’s winners by peering into the Pavé Crystal Ball to see the favorites for the 2010 Paris-Roubaix.
(Cue screen blur and harp music)
2010 Paris-Roubaix - Preview
Tom Boonen - Boonen came into this season with Milan-San Remo as his primary goal. His tire length victory over Mark Cavendish gave him the win he so craved in one of the few Monuments he had left to conquer. Last week at Flanders he looked as though his form is on the decline following weeks at top niveau; but in a race like Roubaix, he still cannot be discounted. Some might say the loss of Devolder will hurt him, but as we saw last year, Roubaix is a race where Tommeke can fend for himself quite well. As long as Quick Step has a rider in the early break to offer support later, Boonen should be fine. As always, luck will be a factor (his opponents' crashes and miscues in 2009 certainly made things a bit easier for him); but in the end, it will come down to just how badly he wants it. If he can display the determination he displayed in San Remo, look for Tom to take the top step for the fourth time.
Fabian Cancellara – Spartacus just can’t catch a break. Last year in Flanders he broke his chain on the Koppenburg, this year he flatted out of the chase group between the Bosberg and the finish line. With O’Grady and Riis’ Viking Horde of dedicated workers, Cancellara is eager to win this race again, thus cementing his place with Boonen in what could become a legendary rivalry.
Filippo Pozzatto – Going into last week's Tour of Flanders, the question regarding Pozzato centered upon whether or not he would try and take the race into his own hands. Last year’s shadowing of Boonen won him the sprint for second, but it did little to help him get him the win. Ironically, this year it was following wheels again that meant the difference for Pippo. The only one able to follow Devolder’s attack up the Muur, Pozzato was more than happy to wait for the sprint where he knew he would make quick work of the Silence rider. This weekend, he stands an even better chance of pulling-off the double in a race that seems to suit him even more. With legions of tifosi lining the course to protect him from those bad Belgian hooligans, Pozzato is primed for victory.
Stijn Devolder – Devolder’s move to Silence might just have paid-off. I’ll admit, I was worried that he might pay the price for letting his ego and his wallet lure him away from the safety of Quick Step. But his performance in last week’s Flanders proves he’s truly Silence’s kopman. While he didn’t win the race, his team worked flawlessly to set him up for his leg-searing attack at the foot of the Muur. Unfortunately, Katusha set-up Pozzato equally well. As domestiques, Hoste and Van Summeren are enough of a team to get Devolder where he needs to be for the win. Throw someone like Sentjens into an early break and you'll have the ingredients for a Devolder victory.
Alessandro Ballan – While still young, as Ballan ages he seems to be losing the explosivity necessary to win on Belgium’s muurs and bergs. However, that doesn’t hinder him in Roubaix, a race of sustained power and endurance. His team is still a bit weak despite the off-season addition of Quinziato. Like many of the other riders, the key for Ballan will be in how he plays off the deeper teams. He’ll need patience and a bit of luck in choosing just which attacks to follow.
Thor Hushvod – The Mighty Thor is out for revenge. He thought he had a second Ghent-Wevelgem in the bag before a stalled motorcycle in the final km led to crash, derailing the peloton’s capture of Flecha’s 2,000-meter suicide breakaway. Thor came-out okay—his lead-out train bore the brunt of the fall—but he’ll certainly be riding with something to prove. As he showed last year, he’s capable of winning this race, should things (including Flecha) fall in his favor.
George Hincapie - For better or worse, we will be subjected to one final year of Versus TV coverage that highlights George Hincapie above all else—the race included. His retirement following this year’s Tour of Missouri will leave Paris-Roubaix without one of its biggest storylines of the past 15 years (at least for English-speaking fans). Could this finally be the year? Columbia added Kevin Ista to bolster the attack, but will it be enough? Burghart and Eisel are there again, but can they be patient for one more year? Time for some box-section alloy rims, George. Your carbon deep-dish wheels seem to make you more flat prone. Pull-out all the stops and give it one more go!
Martijn Maaskant - Maaskant’s move to Rabobank has clearly paid dividends. Having a team of riders capable of supporting him in the big classics made all the difference in his win at the E3 Prijs 2 weeks ago. I still think he’s a year away from a win in Flanders or Roubaix, but he’s certainly capable of succeeding ahead of my schedule. His form is there, his team is solid, and he’s proved adept at learning from his mistakes. Expect big things—if not now, then soon.
Leif Hoste – At first upset by Devolder’s move to Silence, it might turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to Leif. Why? MUCH less pressure. Hoste’s just not strong enough to handle the burden that comes with the status of top favorite. I think he’ll be much better served as a role-playing lieutenant. He could easily find himself in a situation to win the race in a fashion similar to Knaven in 2001. Given a free hand while the other favorites look to Devolder, Hoste might finally bag his big classic win.
Sylvain Chavanel – Devolder’s departure cemented Chava’s place with Quick Step for at least one more year. He’ll get more freedom to play his own odds in race where the competition might mark Boonen too closely. In short, he’s Quick Step’s new Stijn Devolder. In 2009, his late-race exploits showed us all he has the ability to win Roubaix, now he’ll just need the opportunity. If he gets it, don’t be surprised to see the first French winner since Guesdon.
Heinrich Haussler – Haussler still seems to be recovering from the spectacular crash in Stage 3 of the 2009 Vuelta. He shows glimmers of the form that made him the talk of the spring in last year, but I think the top form is still coming. Amstel might be a better chance for him.
Juan Antonio Flecha – Johan Bruyneel has never won at Roubaix. The signing of Flecha proves just how important it might be to him. Flecha’s the king of "too little, too late" as he always seems to miss the move that matters. He broke that streak in Roubaix last year, but crashed in the final 20km. Too eager? Perhaps. But if there’s anyone that can help overcome his nerves and tendency to panic, it’s Bruyneel and Alain Gallopin. Cool under fire, they might prove to be the difference makers for the Spanish Arrow.
Johan Van Summeren – These two have played the roles of faithful domestiques over the past several seasons. They’re likely to do so again, but don’t rule them out. Hoste’s the new lieutenant at Silence; that could give Van Summeren more latitude. Stranger things have happened!
That’s it for my 2010 Paris-Roubaix Preview! Did I miss someone? Share your thoughts below.