The Het Volk cobbles are brutal in certain sections
The course follows a circuit through Belgium, starting and finishing in the town of Gent. Strong Belgian Classics riders like Tom Boonen (who has yet to win the event in his career), Leife Hoste, Nick Nuyens, Stijn Devolder, and Nico Eeckhout will be keen to place high on the day, but the contenders are not limited to Belgians.
Often, the weather for the race is nasty and cold
Last year's winner Pozzato, building his form for the Milan-San Remo race, could show well again in 2008, if he races, and Robbie McEwin, the dimunitive Aussie of the Silence-Lotto team, counts himself as half Belgian (he lives there and speaks fluent Flemish) and is a threat in any race he enters. Bernhard Eisel of the High Road team could make a good result after his win last week in the fifth stage of the Volta ao Algarve, or perhaps his teammate and High Road elder statesman Roger Hammond could emerge as the winner. Stuey O'Grady, last year's winner of Paris-Roubaix is always dangerous, as is Fabian Cancellera, the two-time defending world time trial champ and 2006 Roubaix winner. Also, the Belgian Philippe Gilbert could impress, after netting an early season win in the Tour of Mallorca.
Boonen rolling over the Het Volk cobbles in last year's edition. He'll be a favorite again this year
For wildcards, look no further than "il grillo" Paolo Bettini. The cagy Tuscan from La California posseses tactical prowess that is unsurpassed, and he's riding good form after a solid build up at the Tour of California. Servais Knaven of team High Road has won on the cobbles before (Paris-Roubaix 2001), and as a veteran, he should be given a chance to ride for himself if the opportunity arises. Finally, look out for young Steven Cozza of team Slipstream. The Californian had an excellent Tour of California, and will be motivated to show himself at the front of the race at Het Volk.
Thousands of rabid Belgians will be on hand to cheer on their heroes
Weather for the event calls for rain showers and temps in the mid-fifties, so bike handling skills will be important, as will old-fashioned luck. The cobbles can be fearsome under poor conditions, and Het Volk often becomes a race of attrition as riders crash their bikes, chase back, and crash again. The man who stays upright the longest will put himself in position for a big win in the first Classic of the season.
Last year's podium: Boonen, Pozzato, Flecha