by Barnaby CHESTERMAN
PARIS, April 12, 2014 (AFP) – A week ago the pre-Tour of Flanders talk was
about how open the race would be but ahead of Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix that has
turned to questions about how to stop Fabian Cancellara.
The Swiss 33-year-old won his third Flanders crown last Sunday in a sprint
finish, upsetting the hopes of a trio of Belgians on their home soil.
And now he comes into the ‘Hell of the North’ race on the French cobbles as
the overwhelming favourite to complete a second successive Flanders-Roubaix
double, and third in total.
Already a double winner of the northern cobbled classics in 2010 and last
year, Cancellara’s victory in Oudenaarde last week was deflating for his
opponents because he did so in a sprint finish.
“Spartacus” — as Cancellara is known in the peloton — is revered for his
sheer power and ability to ride away from the pack and time-trial his way to
That he now has another weapon in his armoury — the ability to kick away
from other riders in the final few hundred metres — makes him an even greater
favourite than he would otherwise have been at the ‘Queen of the Classics’.
“He’s obviously the strongest guy here and to be able to follow him you’ve
got to be good,” said British rider Geraint Thomas after Flanders.
A three time winner (his other success was in 2006), Cancellara could join
Belgians Roger De Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen as a record four-time champion if
he crosses the line first at the velodrome in Roubaix.
Boonen — the winner in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 20012 — will line up as one
of his major rivals, although the Omega-Pharmna rider has struggled to produce
his best form so far during the Spring Classics season.
He did the Flanders-Roubaix double for the second time in 2012 before his
2013 season was ruined by a rib injury.
But a seventh placed finish in Flanders and fifth at Gent-Wevelgem the week
before shows he is not far away in 2014, if still perhaps just shy of the top
form needed to beat Cancellara.
– Boonen’s trump card –
Boonen’s trump card, though, is that he has by far the best classics team
around him — three Omega Pharma riders finished in the top seven in Flanders.
Cancellara may be favourite but this being Paris-Roubaix, anything could
There are 28 different cobbled sections totalling 51.1km meaning a huge
amount of potential pitfalls.
Crashes were aplenty already on the cobbles in Flanders last week and there
is no reason to suspect they won’t play a major role on Sunday too.
Double Flanders winner and Cancellara’s Trek team-mate Stijn Devolder saw
his hopes of success on home soil last week wrecked by three crashes and
trailed home in 86th place almost 10 minutes behind.
But if the main favourites do successfully negotiate the cobbles then we
can expect to see Belgians Greg Van Avermaet, who was the main attacking
protagonist in Flanders and finished second, and Sep Vanmarcke, the only man
to follow Cancellara’s acceleration on the Kwaremont before coming home third,
to be challenging once again.
Dutchman Niki Terpstra, Milan-San Remo winner Alexander Kristoff and Sky’s
Thomas might also be expected to feature prominently.
But there is also growing belief that 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley
Wiggins — Thomas’s Sky team-mate — could be a good outside bet.
Everyone in the peloton acknowledges Wiggins has the power to win, but the
question marks are over his ability to match the likes of Boonen and
“I had really good legs on Sunday (at the Tour of Flanders). I’d be lethal
if I could ride positions,” he joked.
“It’s a bit more on having the legs in Roubaix, so as the race wears on,
fewer guys can keep fighting, and I think that’s where I’ll certainly come to
the fore is in the final 50km because I’ll have the legs and the length.”