Last week's Tour of Flanders is an indicator of who will be around at the end to contest the win at Roubaix, but it must be remembered that Roubaix is a far different race than Flanders. More than perhaps any other race, Paris-Roubaix demands experience, grit and perhaps above all, poise. Panic has no place at Roubaix, as the dynamics of the contest change from minute to minute.
Fabian Cancellara will certainly be there toward the end is is the favorite of favorites for the race. The Swiss is at the very height of his powers and will be nearly impossible to thwart, unless in a sprint. After Cancellara, there are any number of riders who could find themselves victorious at the end of the race.
If I have to pick five names to bet on for the win, I'd choose Hushovd, Boonen, Ballan and Langevelde. Although he finished well off the pace at Flanders, Roubaix is a race taylor-made for Hushovd. Ditto Tom Boonen, as his three previous wins foreshadow. Ballan seems all the way back and has been on the podium twice in the past at Roubaix. Langevelde is just riding too well right now to ignore but his capability on the cobbles is yet to be seen.
Looking at a few outsiders, George Hincapie, Dominique Rollin, Bernhard Eisel and Lars Boom are top of mind. Hincapie is on good form and looks in with as good as chance as ever he's had before. Rollin is probably lacking a bit of experience but his form too is solid and with some luck he could be in with a shot down the stretch. Eisel is probably a bit light for the cobbles but always rides tough, and Boom's big frame should translate well to the pave.
Some other thougths for Sunday . . .
Always fun to watch the Euskaltel Euskadi riders early on in the race as they get shelled off the back. One of the best parts of the first 50k.
Seeing veterans who have absolutely no chance to win like McEwen, Vaitkus, Wiggins, Hondo and Allan Davis is a testament to the respect a rider gets just by finishing at Roubaix.
Leif Hoste has gotten pretty beat up by crashes the last few race days, but expect him to ride gritty as he usually does at Roubaix. He'll not now nor never actually win Paris-Roubaix, but he'll end up being remembered as a guy who was usually in contention at the "Queen of the Classics".
Peter Sagan came into the spring classics with a head full of steam, but thus far he has been pack fill. Roubaix is his last chance before the hilly classics call. In fact, he probably has a better chance at Amstel than Roubaix.
If Pippo Pozzato doesn't manage a top ten, will Katusha can him or simply change his role to one of a domestique for the rest of 2011? It sure would be humiliating for Pozzato to be riding tempo on the flattest stages of the Giro at the front of the pack come this May . . .