Defending Paris-Roubaix champion Magnus Bäckstedt (Liquigas-Bianchi) has reacted to the route changes made by race organiser ASO, saying "Arenberg is what Paris-Roubaix is all about! It is the location of the first major selection in the race. If it is being removed so that it can be restored then I can accept that, but if it's being removed because organisers don't think its safe for riders and they might fall, then that is unacceptable."
The Wallers/Arenberg cobblestone section will be removed from the course in 2005 because its first 200 metres have deteriorated and made the "entrance" onto the 2400 km-long pavés too dangerous for the riders. In its press release, race organisers do consider restoring the section to possibly include it as of 2006. Meanwhile, the exclusion of the Arenberg cobbles does not make any sense to Bäckstedt.
"You don't go into Paris Roubaix not thinking about the dangers", he said. "It is a dangerous race and that is what makes it the monumental classic which it is. You come out of the Arenberg section with the contenders generally in the group, you then lose two or three guys a section until you get down to the real potential winners.
"I would say that taking out the tough section of the race is like putting a gear restriction on bunch sprints to limit the speed we sprint at. There are many races including unnecessary dangers, like having the finish line 200 m after a corner that has just had a 2 km straight! As professional riders, we are all concerned about safety, but in the right place and context."
Backstedt now heads to Italy for the presentation of his 2005 Liquigas-Bianchi team, before taking a flight to Doha, Qatar at the end on the month, where he will participate in the Tour of Qatar alongside his teammates Mario Cipollini, Dario Andriotto, Nicola Loda, Marco Milesi, Marcus Ljungqvist, Gianluca Sironi and Marco Zanotti. Liquigas riders Dario Cioni, Danilo Di Luca, Devis Miorin and Charles Wegelius will fly to Toluca, Mexico, to train at altitude until the end of February.