Boonen heads favourites onto Hell's cobbles

Following his victory in last weekend's Tour of Flanders, Tom Boonen looks the rider to beat in Sund

Following his victory in last weekend's Tour of Flanders, Tom Boonen looks the rider to beat in Sund

Sunday's 103rd edition of Paris-Roubaix is already evoking memories of 1994's classic race that was won in appalling conditions by Andrei Tchmil ahead of a very frustrated Johan Museeuw. After snow, hail, rain and high winds blasted the course, much of the difference between the two riders could be laid down to Tchmil 'only' having four crashes to Museeuw's five. Many of the other contendres. Franco Ballerini among them, hit the deck as many as 10 times during what was, for those watching at least, an epic event.
With cold conditions sweeping down across Europe during the tail-end of the week and more bad weather forecast for the weekend, the one sure thing about tomorrow's Roubaix is that the recent bad conditions will play a significant part and that should make for a more unpredictable race.

Tour of Flanders winner Tom Boonen may start as the favourite and the Quick Step team leader won't be fazed by treacherous conditions, as he showed when riding to third place a couple of years ago behind Museeuw and Steffen Wesemann.

Boonen's most obvious rivals are defending champion Magnus Backstedt, T-Mobile's Wesemann and Erik Zabel, the Davitamon-Lotto team led by Peter van Petegem, and Discovery Channel's George Hincapie. Of these, Davitamon probably offer the biggest threat as Van Petegem has won this race before and was not too far away at Flanders last weekend, while Nico Mattan won Ghent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, albeit in controversial circumstances.

The threat from English-speaking riders is considerable, with Hincapie the most likely to top the podium. The American made an incredible debut in that classic 1994 race and came home beaming with pleasure, knowing that he had found the event that he relished above all others. Few would begrudge the Discovery man success on the Roubaix cobbles after many subsequent years of near misses and bad luck. British team-mate Roger Hammond looks set to start after his crash at Wevelgem in the week, while Stuart O'Grady is another to watch.

Much of the news leading into this race has been about the absence of the Arenberg forest section of cobbles, but if the weather does its worst then no one will miss what would have been an overly dangerous part of the course. If anything, the adjustments that have been made make the route harder than ever anyway, which just adds to the feeling of a classic race being about to unfold.

This article was published by BikeRadar, the world's leading source of bike reviews, gear reviews, riding advice and route information
  • Discipline: Road, Mountain, Urban, Womens
  • Location: UK, USA, Australia
Back to top