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April 8, 2011

This is the week. Last Sunday: the Tour of Flanders; this coming Sunday: Paris-Roubaix. There is no better week of cycling on the entire calendar. Since last Friday (in anticipation), I’ve had goosebumps the size of cobblestones. The cycling season goes into a long and steady denouement from next Monday morning forward. The remaining Monuments are still terrific, and the Giro d’Italia has been more and more exciting, but nothing tops the cold, bitter cobblestones of Belgium and northern France.

I didn’t write about Flanders, but it was a terrific race. Fabian Cancellara, who even calls himself Spartacus, looked invincible as he rode away from the pack. Only Sylvain Chavanel could keep his wheel until he started to cramp and the race came back together. Absolutely terrific stuff as Philippe Gilbert attacked over the Bosberg. In the end, Nick Nuyens stole the race after Cancellara provided yet another round of fireworks in the final stretch.

It’s all over the interwebs, but Paris-Roubaix is quite different. While it’s the climbing that defines Flanders, Paris-Roubaix is flatters, but whereas the Flandrian cobbles are fairly smooth, parts of the route between Paris and Roubaix looks like it would buck mountain bikers. This stunning photograph of the Arenberg Forest found on cyclingtips sums up the drama that is dubbed “The Hell of the North”—”L’Enfer du Nord.”

Contending on these cobbles requires strength, power, luck, and an unerring capacity to ignore pain—both in the legs, but also in every joint as riders bounce over the unforgiving roads. Current World Champion Thor Hushovd has openly stated that this is the race on his calendar that he wants to win. But can anyone really expect to keep up with Cancellara, especially after he failed to take Flanders? Smart money has to be on Cancellara going away. After those two, BMC Racing Team looked very strong at the Tour of Flanders, so I’ll take Alessandro Ballan for third. I like Geraint Thomas for fourth; he might rank as an outsider given his relative youth, but he has the pedigree on the pavé and he showed last week that he is in good form. Many prognosticators will likely have Tom Boonen in their top five, but I just can’t see it. I’m a big fan of Boonen’s but he looked fragile in Flanders (he finished fourth) and crashed twice in a race midweek. At the same time, I’m not sure who to put in fifth spot. I’ll need to think further. In the meantime, though, I can’t wait for Sunday.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 8, 2011 4:33 pm

    Chris Horner said several years ago: “…they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That’s Paris-Roubaix. It’s that bad – it’s ridiculous.”

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