- Article published:
- April 7, 2012, 21:00
- Barry Ryan
French champion perfect foil to favourite Boonen
Riders will be attracted to Tom Boonen's rear wheel like moths to light on Sunday afternoon, but his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate Sylvain Chavanel is among those who could benefit from a tactical stalemate in the finale of Paris-Roubaix.
Chavanel played a key role in aiding Boonen during his Tour of Flanders triumph last weekend after helping himself to victory at the Three Days of De Panne in the week leading up to the race. While Chavanel stressed that Boonen will be the outright leader again on Sunday, he admitted that he would gratefully seize any opportunity that arises.
"The circumstances of the race will decide, although I think Tom is really the strongest at the moment," Chavanel told reporters in Compiègne on Saturday. "But if I end up profiting from certain situations during the race then I wouldn't hesitate for a second to think about myself."
With no Fabian Cancellara to deflect any of the attention, Boonen is sure to be heavily marked as he sets off in pursuit of a record-equalling fourth Paris-Roubaix victory, but Chavanel admitted that he is hardly likely to be given a free rein himself. Since his victory at Dwars Door Vlaanderen during his final season at Cofidis in 2008, the Frenchman has evolved into a rider of some distinction on the cobbles and he enters Paris-Roubaix as one of just a handful of potential winners.
"Being the big favourite is always a handicap because you're always going to be marked," Chavanel said of Boonen. "Me, I'm among the outsiders, but I know that I'll be marked a bit too because I'm not someone who you can allow to escape just like that."
The loudest cheers at the pre-race presentation on Saturday afternoon were for the home favourite Chavanel, but paradoxically for a French rider, he has enjoyed greater success on the pavé over the border in Belgium than he has done in the Hell of the North. His second place finish at the Tour of Flanders last year, not to mention his role in the victories of Stijn Devolder and Boonen, eclipse his best showing at Paris-Roubaix, 8th place in 2009.
"Personally, I've had more pleasure at the Tour of Flanders, but I hope to have the same kind of joy I've had at the Tour of Flanders at Paris-Roubaix, starting this weekend," Chavanel said. "Getting on the highest step of the podium is a personal objective but in any case I would certainly like to do a good Paris-Roubaix with the French champion's jersey on my back."
Chavanel entered last year's Paris-Roubaix on a high after his gallant showing at the Tour of Flanders the previous week, and with the QuickStep squad struggling for form collectively, much of its hopes were pinned on his shoulders. Instead, two punctures at a crash shortly after the Arenberg forest saw his challenge unravel, while Boonen's race also ended in similar circumstances.
"I simply hope that the team has more success than last year," Chavanel said. "We had a lot of punctures then and an enormous amount of crashes. Part of Paris-Roubaix is about trying to get past all of that and then having the legs in the finale of course."
- Article published:
- April 7, 2012, 22:00
- Barry Ryan
"Boonen is not superman"
Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini-Selle Italia) is bullish about his chances of beating Tom Boonen in a sprint on the velodrome at the end of Paris-Roubaix in spite of his defeat at the hands of the Belgian at the Tour of Flanders last weekend.
Part of the decisive three-man break at De Ronde with Boonen and Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Pozzato opted to play his hand in the sprint rather than attack Boonen on the run-in to Oudenaarde, a tactic questioned afterwards by Ballan. Speaking to reporters at the Paris-Roubaix team presentation in Compiègne on Saturday, Pozzato rejected his fellow Italian's criticism, pointing out that he had already beaten Boonen in a three-up sprint at the end of E3 Harelbeke in 2009.
"I ride my race, I don't listen to what Ballan says. I think I was right to do what I did," Pozzato said. "I've come to the finish like that with Tom twice. The first time I beat him, the second time he won, so the record is 50-50. He hasn't always won, so it's not like he scares me in the sprint. Technically he's faster and more explosive than me, but it's not impossible to beat him."
Slowly moving through the mixed zone, his eyes hidden behind designer shades, Pozzato was almost mantra-like in repeating his conviction that Boonen is indeed vulnerable. Reporter after reporter, question after question, Pozzato politely outlined his belief that he can end Boonen's recent string of success, which includes victories at E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
"Tom is certainly the number one favourite but he's not superman. He's not unbeatable," Pozzato said of his former teammate. "Of course he can be calm because he has won all of the recent races that he has done, but I'll play my card too. I really believe I can do it."
Long lauded by the cognoscenti of the northern classics for his grace on the pavé – Patrick Lefevere colourfully mused that you could place a glass of water on Pozzato's back on the cobbles and he wouldn't spill a drop – Pozzato has yet to convert that considerable style into victories of substance. Second place finishes at Roubaix in 2009 and Flanders last week are perhaps a meagre return for a rider of his quality, but he has enjoyed a new lease of life since his switch to Luca Scinto's Farnese Vini-Selle Italia squad over the winter.
"I think I can do it, I certainly have good condition and in Flanders I was maybe the guy who was going the strongest, but in the end Boonen won," Pozzato said. "The important thing to is to be up there tomorrow and give everything like at Flanders. If I win tomorrow, it really would be a dream come true."
Although Pozzato and Ballan reached a tacit agreement not to harm one another's interests in the final 10 kilometres in Flanders, Pozzato paid little heed to the idea that the main contenders would look to form a coalition of sorts against the favourite Boonen.
"No, I ride for my jersey, for Farnese-Selle Italia, and the other ride for their own teams. Everybody rides his own race," he said. "Besides, it's not just Boonen, there are other strong riders like Ballan, Hushovd and Flecha who can do something good."
Four-time winner Roger De Vlaeminck noted that the contenders at Paris-Roubaix must concentrate on simply surviving before they can even begin to countenance tactics, and Pozzato was in agreement with that line of thinking. "Tactically, there's not a lot to be teased out beforehand, you really just need to be up there in the finale and then decide on how to play your cards there," he said.
Sessions on the track at Montichiari have been a staple of Pozzato's winter preparation in recent years. Time will tell if that is enough for him to look to play his final hand on the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday afternoon.
- Article published:
- April 7, 2012, 22:56
- Brecht Decaluwé
Sky leader with form ahead of race
Five weeks after breaking his hand in a collision with a car during a training ride, Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) returned to competition at the Tour of Flanders. The Spaniard immediately managed to be competitive by finishing in the group that sprinted for fourth place. One week later he’s heading into Paris-Roubaix as one of the outsiders to beat top favorite Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quick Step).
On Saturday afternoon Flecha joined his teammates at the team presentation in front of the château of Compiègne where the start of the legendary race will be held on Sunday morning. The Spaniard didn’t have high expectations as he pointed out that he was more than satisfied just to be able to start the race.
“My hand is going better. Every day it’s improving but it still hurts a lot when I pull on the handlebars. I noticed that I’m less in pain when I lower the position of my hand. Anyway, it’s only five weeks since I sustained the injury which is quite recent and it’s certainly not 100 per cent,” Flecha said.
While Flecha was sidelined the rest of the pavé specialists battled out several races.
Two weeks ago, while Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma - Quick Step) won Dwars door Vlaanderen, Flecha left his home near Barcelona for the first time to ride his bike on the roads. “Every unevenness in the road made me shout out the pain so I quickly returned to the rollers,” Flecha told Het Nieuwsblad. “I was pleasantly surprised with my Ronde performance but it was bloody hard. Especially the first hours and when hitting the first pavé, it hurt a lot.”
Though extremely demanding the course in Paris-Roubaix might favor Flecha as the long pavé sections are more of a long effort than short stints up a cobbled climb like the Tour of Flanders often features.
“To me Boonen is the big favorite. At the same time there’s a lot of other favorites too. There’s a lot of riders with a chance. Maybe I’m one of those riders,” Flecha said. When asked how to beat Boonen the 34 year-old Spaniard didn’t surprise. “I don’t know the secret. It’s pretty difficult because he’s a really fast guy. He doesn’t need to make it a hard race and destroy the bunch like Fabian Cancellara. He can win in many different ways.”
- Article published:
- April 8, 2012, 06:55
- Brecht Decaluwé
Throat problems leave Belgian pavé talent in doubts
The Garmin-Barracuda team dives into Paris-Roubaix with two Belgians as their protected men. Last year's winner Johan Vansummeren and Sep Vanmarcke are the riders who're up for a difficult task as they'll face stiff opposition from in-form Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma - Quick Step) who's been dominating the pavé classics during the last few weeks. Vansummeren is the clear team leader while Vanmarcke will be the joker of the team, as it's unclear if he'll recover in time from his throat problems.
On Saturday afternoon Vanmarcke talked with Cyclingnews at the team presentation in Compiègne. The 23-year-old said that his teammate and compatriot Vansummeren had a good chance to repeat his win from last year. "He's super and manages to keep his cool. He deals well with the pressure even though he is much-asked nowadays. During the training on Wednesday he was going real quick over the cobbles. I think he can win it a second time," Vanmarcke said.
"Let there be no doubt about it that Johan is the sole leader. My build-up has been disturbed due to a sore throat; it was something between a cold and the flu."
The protected role for Vanmarcke might seem strange as he's still only 23 year old, but a glance at his record makes it becomes obvious that Vanmarcke is a huge talent for the pavé classics. Back in 2010, in his first year amongst the pros, Vanmarcke already finished as runner-up in Gent-Wevelgem.
Last year Vanmarcke debuted in Paris-Roubaix and quickly it showed that he was capable of riding the cobbles like the best. He worked hard to get into the early breakaway but failed, then started pulling in the group of favorites for then team leader Thor Hushovd. Despite all his efforts he eventually he crossed the line in twentieth position. Afterwards, while still in the vélodrome, he stated that he now believed that he would be at his top in this race rather than in the Tour of Flanders.
One year later Vanmarcke has his first spring classics win in the bag. He beat Tom Boonen in a three-man sprint at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. More than a month later it turns out that Vanmarcke was the only rider who managed to beat Boonen in the sprint. Vanmarcke realized that things turned around although he didn't feel like Boonen already had the win in the pocket.
"He will not simply receive the win although the Tom Boonen we see nowadays seems unbeatable. Then again, if one has a super day and ends up against a tiring Boonen then everything is possible. It's clear that he's in the best position," Vanmarcke said.
Last week in the Tour of Flanders Vanmarcke was unable to live up to the high expectations. The Belgian failed to follow the trio Boonen-Pozzato-Ballan on the last ascent of the Oude Kwaremont and eventually crossed the line in 48th position. According to the 23-year-old it was illness which probably prevented him from going flat out in Flanders. On the eve of the Hell of the North he claimed that the throat problems are now behind him although he didn't know how much it affected his form.
"It's getting better. If I'm ill it always affects me at my throat. It was difficult to breathe properly as my throat was completely shut. I probably picked it up the day before the Ronde van Vlaanderen. That evening I already had a headache and a nose pain. It didn't seem like it was a problem but ont it knocked me down on Sunday night. That's probably why I wasn't feeling super during the Ronde. Now it's quickly improving. Today was the first morning in which I woke up feeling reasonable," Vanmarcke said.
His illness prevented him from getting a normal build-up to a highly demanding race like Paris-Roubaix and time is running out on getting fit at the start of the race. "The whole week I didn't train. Only on Wednesday I did the reconnaissance. That recon was good but my sensations on the bike weren't super. I couldn't pull through until the end like it should be. Now I can only hope that it'll be alright before tomorrow. It's not about super-compensation but about getting ready in time. It'll be tight. The team can count on me if I'm healthy otherwise I can't do anything. If I can breathe properly I can get very far. It' a big question mark. It's a pity that it's happening now."
The Garmin-Barracuda team further includes strong men like Jack Bauer, Tyler Farrar, Heinrich Haussler and Jacob Rathe. Together with pavé specialists Andreas Klier and Martijn Maaskant - the latter finished fourth back in 2008 - the American team should be able to play its role in the Hell of the North on Sunday.
- Article published:
- April 8, 2012, 07:38
- Daniel Benson
Boasson Hagen and Flecha can challenge for podium
Team Sky's Servais Knaven is hopeful that Juan Antonio Flecha and Edvald Boasson Hagen can challenge for the Paris-Roubaix podium and end the British team's cobbled classics campaign on a high.
Knaven's contingent started with a bang in Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne in February, with Mark Cavendish taking the win. Bernhard Eisel went on to take third in Gent-Wevelgem but the team were shut out at the Tour of Flanders last weekend.
Roubaix offers the British team another opportunity and with Boasson Hagen confident and Flecha in surprisingly strong form despite a five-week injury lay-off, Knaven is hoping the team can rise for one last challenge before turning their attention to the Ardennes.
"We have a strong team," he told Cyclingnews.
"Of course Edvald and Flecha will get the most support but we have other riders who can be in the front."
"We are very happy with Flecha's form. Everybody was a bit surprised, even Flecha himself. He'd been training well but he'd missed racing. He was better than we'd all hoped for so let's hope he's a bit better tomorrow and that he's there tomorrow."
Knaven only became a team director at the start of 2011, having had a long career as a professional rider that included 16 starts and finishes in Roubaix. His last Roubaix came in 2010 but his most memorable was in 2001, when he soloed to the win after a late attack. During the late 90s and early 2000s he formed part of Patrick Lefevere's formidable line-up that included Johan Museeuw, Andrea Tafi and Wilfried Peters.
This weekend Knaven goes up against his old Mapei/Domo boss but the Dutchman knows that QuickStep aren't the only hurdle in the race.
"It's such an unpredictable race. Having numbers in front can be really important, even for the favourites it's important to have teammates around you. It's so hard to win the race on your own and in my eyes we have a really strong team. We already showed good form in recent weeks so we're aiming for a top three tomorrow. Why not try to win it."
"You never know how Lefevere and QuickStep will race. Everyone knows a little bit about the way of racing at QuickStep but it's a mistake to just concentrate on them. BMC are strong, Garmin are also strong. It's not going to be an easy race, not even for Tom Boonen. Look at what happened last year with Cancellara, he never made it to the front because of tactics of other teams.",
- Article published:
- April 8, 2012, 08:08
- Daniel Benson
Belgian team “needs a guy like him” for the Classics
Lotto Belisol team principal Marc Sergeant has opened the door for Sep Vanmarcke joining his team, telling Cyclingnews that the 23-year-old could be their number one transfer target and that, “we need a guy like him."
Vanmarcke's current contract expires at the end of this season and after a superb win in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad he will have a number of teams enquiring about his services for 2013 and beyond.
"He's free. We'd be interested in him for next year. I don't know about the money though. We'd have to see what he wants first but I think Garmin want to keep him as well," Sergeant told Cyclingnews the day before Paris-Roubaix.
An additional hurdle to Garmin's resilience may be Vanmarcke's desire to keep away from Belgian teams. At the start of the year he told Cyclingnews that he preferred the more relaxed environment of the American squad, where the constant gaze of the Belgian media was somewhat deflected.
Lotto certainly needs a leader for the cobbled Classics. Their superb start to the season has been curtailed in recent weeks and while the loss of Philippe Gilbert to BMC has of course been a factor, the team failed to sign a replacement in the off-season. Lars Bak has been ruled out with injury and missed the last few weeks of racing, while Andre Greipel has lost his form and perhaps some confidence since his blistering start to the year.
According to Sergeant the team could have kept Gilbert from joining BMC but that the biggest factor was down to salary.
"We didn't have the money. If we had the money I think he would have stayed."
For tomorrow's Paris-Roubaix Sergeant will be hoping that Greipel has fully recovered from his crash in Scheldeprijs early this week. The German fell after crossing the line and injured his hand but Sergeant believes that his leader is on the mend.
"He has had some troubles with his wrist but he says that it's getting better with each day. I hope has no pain tomorrow because then he can do a great race.
“We also have Marcel Sieberg who can go on for a long time but I think they need to anticipate and already be in a group with a car behind him."
- Article published:
- April 8, 2012, 11:58
- Cycling News
Classic start in Compiegne
Crisp blue skies greeted the peloton at the start of the 110th edition of Paris-Roubaix. Ahead of the field, 257.5km, 27 sectors of cobbles, and the famous velodrome finish.
The Hell of the North is the final cobbled classic of the spring and the air was thick with anticipation and excitement in Compeigne this morning. Defending champion Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Barracuda) signed on mid-way through the startline process but the biggest cheers were for two other riders.
Tom Boonen is the outright favourite for his 4th win in the race and will be hoping to make it a Flanders-Roubaix double for the second time in his career.
But Frederic Guesdon was greeted with the most applause, from fans and press alike. The veteran FDJ rider won the race in 1997 and this will be his final race in a long and distinguished career. His teammates and even his boss Marc Madiot sported ‘Merci Fred’ t-shirts in a sign of thanks and although Guesdon is no longer considered a favourite for Roubaix he has etched his mark on the race’s illustrious history.
- Article published:
- April 8, 2012, 17:45
- Daniel Benson
American helped Ballan to podium finish
Taylor Phinney (BMC) achieved the two aims he set out on in his first Paris-Roubaix, helping his team secure a podium place for Alessandro Ballan and finishing the race in 15th place.
"I had really good legs today. I had no mishaps and no crashes and no flats. It was the perfect combination," Phinney told Cyclingnews.
Phinney hardly rode his own race. With around 100 kilometres to go he was at the front of the bunch setting the pace for his team, leading them and the peloton into several sectors of cobbles.
"I did a lot of work for the guys. I tried really hard to get in the break, missed that and then helped out on the front going into some big sections like the Arenberg."
Twice a winner of the U23 version of the race, Phinney was selected by BMC despite missing out on a place in their Flanders team the week before. Paris-Roubaix is a race that suits his skill-set more than the bergs of Flanders.
"Every time I was on the cobbles I felt at home in a sick and twisted way, and if I was too far back I would just move up. Even in the Arenberg I went into it in 30th wheel but then moved up to the front and then gave it a go. With 80 kilometres to go I was already having cramps but the team made sure I was eating and drinking.
"I'm really happy with the finish I had, with the amount of work that I did. I know Ballan would have liked better than third but he's been so consistent throughout the whole Classics season so far. It's amazing. He's one of the best teammates and I love working for him."
Phinney has made no secret of his passion for Paris-Roubaix. While there remains a sizeable gap between his ride and that of the present day contenders, he has time on his side to improve. And with compatriot and teammate George Hincapie contemplating retirement Phinney will be the US's major player in the race for the foreseeable future.
"This is my kind of race. It's my favourite race in the entire calendar. There are little to no hills and I love riding over cobblestones so it's tailor made for me. I knew that I could finish in the top-20 if I was going on a top day. It's a really good sign going forward for the next few years."