Gird your barses for Paris-Roubaix

It’s Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. Hills aren’t the issue.

The route

I remember the first time I discovered the proportion of the Paris-Roubaix route which was cobbles, I thought: “Is that all?”

Now, having ridden on cobbles for an incredibly short distance, I see the route and think: “51.1km! Sweet mother of Merckx!”

That’s the kind of reaction the route warrants. That’s why Theo De Rooy described it as ‘bollocks’ shortly before lauding it. That’s why it’s such a big deal. Also, as the final race in the cobbled classics season, you know that no-one’s racing it for training purposes and Lord knows they aren’t racing it for fun.

As Lance Armstrong’s naughty Italian coach, Michele Ferrari, once wrote:

“A total of 51,000 meters of pavé, with five or six stones every meter, is about 250,000-300,000 hammer blows on the legs of each rider.”

He then went on to describe how the constant pummelling even has an impact on blood flow. What japes.

The riders

You’re mostly looking at the same riders as last week. If they were fit then, they’ll be fit now.

In the two previous years that Fabian Cancellara has won the Tour of Flanders, he also won Paris-Roubaix. Make of that what you will (so long as what you make of it is that he’s the favourite). Sep Vanmarcke came second behind him last year and was in the same front group at the end of the Tour of Flanders last week, finishing third. He too will be worth watching.

At Team Sky, Bradley Wiggins thinks Geraint Thomas will be their main man, while Thomas thinks Edvald Boasson Hagen will be the nominated leader. No-one’s asked Boasson Hagen who he’ll be riding for, but presumably he’ll say Wiggins. It would all be so much simpler if Ian Stannard didn’t have a broken back.

Peter Sagan is riding, but oddly he doesn’t normally do Paris-Roubaix. His team say it’s practice for future years, but it isn’t. He’s riding to win – although his relative inexperience means that’s less likely.

Tom Boonen’s hoping to be a smidge better than last week and he’s always a possible, as are most of his Omega Pharma – Quick Step team-mates, especially Niki Terpstra and Zdenek Stybar.

As for Mr Near-Miss, Greg Van Avermaet, he’s hoping for a sprint finish:

“I think I have a good sprint in the end of a hard race. I think this is one of my strongest points and always has been.”

To recap, Van Avermaet finished second in both the Omloop and the Tour of Flanders this year. On both occasions, there was a sprint finish.

Coverage

No Paris-Roubaix on ITV4 this year. Not sure why. Weirdly, they’re showing Spartacus – Cancellara’s nickname – while the race is on. Eurosport will be covering it in full and failing that I’ll be giving you a half-arsed recap early next week.