The sun shines on Paris-Roubaix

Sunday's Paris-Roubaix promises to be one of the highlights of the classics season. Even though it w

Sunday's Paris-Roubaix promises to be one of the highlights of the classics season. Even though it w
PIC © TIM DE WAELE This Sunday, April 15th will see the 105th running of Paris-Roubaix, the Queen of the Classics. The 259.5km race across northern France starts in Compiegne and finishes on the hallowed Roubaix velodrome. But to get there, the pros will have to make it across 52.7km of bone-jarring cobbled sectors. There are 28 of these in all, and each one has the potential to end a rider's chances through mechanical mishap or a crash. It's a race where luck plays a big role, but the strongest riders usually survive to finish on the podium. The cobbles start after 98km in Troisvilles. Key sectors are the savage Arenberg Forest (sector 18, km 163.5), a new sector between Beuvry-la-Fort and Orchies (sector 13, km 194), Mons-en-Pvle (sector 10, km 210.5), and the Carrefour de l'Arbre (sector 4, km 242). Fortunately for the riders, it won't be wet on Sunday. It's predicted to be sunny and 25 degrees, with a 10km/h easterly wind blowing. Although that will be across the riders for much of the day, it shouldn't cause too many problems. Last year, Fabian Cancellara (CSC) was unstoppable after attacking on the Carrefour de l'Arbre with 19km to go. The Swiss held off a chasing trio containing Leif Hoste, Peter Van Petegem and Vladimir Gusev, who were later disqualified for going through a train crossing as the barriers were coming down. Tom Boonen, who was fifth on the day, was awarded second place while Alessandro Ballan was third. The same names will be the main favourites in this year's race. Cancellara has looked impressive in the lead-up to Roubaix, and is certainly targeting it for the second year in a row. He'll be supported by the very experienced Stuart O'Grady and Lars Michaelsen, the latter hanging up his wheels after Roubaix. Team director Scott Sunderland, who will be joining us for a forum chat next Tuesday, gave his pre-race thoughts to team-csc.com. "There's a great atmosphere on the team," he said. "The morale is high and everyone has done a great job so far - not just the riders, but also the mechanics and our soigneurs, who are working practically day and night to make sure everything is ready for this race. We know, we have the very best staff and equipment possible and all the riders are in absolute top form, so all we need now is the right amount of luck - which you always need in Paris-Roubaix. So I'm confident of a great result for our team." Tom Boonen and Peter Van Petegem will be riding for the same team this year: Quick.Step. Patrick Lefvre's men have won this classic more often than not in the last decade, and they will be gunning for another victory after missing out in Flanders last week. Quick.Step will have to do without Wilfried Cretskens, who was injured in Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday, but they can count on the strength of Gert Steegmans, Steven De Jongh and Kevin Van Impe. "I'm ready for Paris-Roubaix, that is the most important thing," Boonen was quoted in the Belgian press following Gent-Wevelgem. "The sun is shining again for me. I surprised myself. I felt a bit of pain after the crash in the Ronde, but that will be gone by Sunday. Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) has improved a level since last year, and showed it by winning the Three Days of De Panne and the Tour of Flanders. The 27 year-old did finish on the podium in Roubaix in 2006, and has what it takes to reach the top step. His breakaway partner in Flanders, Leif Hoste, will captain the Predictor-Lotto team. He will be hoping to convert one of his many second places into a win in Roubaix. The Belgian is strong enough to do it in a small breakaway, as long as he times his sprint right... T-Mobile's camp will have been buoyed by the 1-2 finish in Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday. The boys in magenta have Marcus Burghardt and Roger Hammond as their key riders. G-W winner Burghardt compared Paris-Roubaix to Gent-Wevelgem. "It's a very different race, 60 kilometres longer, and it has very different characteristics," he told team-t-mobile.com. "It is also much harder, but I feel very strong and will try to stay with the best riders for as long as possible." Roger Hammond is a past podium finisher in Roubaix, and is clearly happy with his form. "Wednesday's race was really good for the confidence," he said. "I am really looking forward to Paris-Roubaix; it's an absolutely massive race and a great race to get on the podium. We have a really strong team and many cards to play. Tactically, the sporting managers got it spot on yesterday, so lets see what they have planned for us in France." Discovery Channel had two men in the first chase group behind Cancellara in 2006. One of those, Vladimir Gusev, will be heading the team on Sunday. Gusev has been a consistent top 10 finisher in the classics in recent years, and last week's fifth place in Flanders was no fluke. His new teammate Tomas Vaitkus (6th last week) will be a valuable ally on the pav as well. Finally, the Liquigas team has often been up there in the cobbled races this season. With Het Volk winner Filippo Pozzato and 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Bckstedt in its line-up, it has the firepower to challenge for the victory. Got a comment? Discuss this in the Procycling forum. What else is new? Check out the Procycling blog.
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