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Tyler Farrar is confident that defending champion Johan Vansummeren can lead the line for Garmin-Barracuda at this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. A crash on the Paterberg hampered Vansummeren in the finale of the Tour of Flanders, but Farrar believes his teammate has the same sort of condition that carried him to victory at Roubaix 12 months ago.
"Our whole objective is to try and win Roubaix and Summie is our guy for that," Farrar told Cyclingnews in Ghent. "We do have a few other riders and if something happens in the race, we do have some back-ups, but we're starting the race all for one and that's Johan.
"I think he's really fit. He's looked really good and he's been really good on the races. Roubaix is a special race, and you need to have the legs and a bit of luck, but with the way Johan has been riding the last couple of weeks, I think he's just as strong as he was this time last year."
Vansummeren lined up in 2011 as one of Thor Hushovd's key lieutenants, but he seized the opportunity when he infiltrated what turned out to be the decisive break shortly after the Arenberg forest. Although Hushovd has since left for pastures new at BMC, Garmin remains a solid force on the cobbles, all the more so given the progress made by Sep Vanmarcke this season.
The young Belgian won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, but admitted that the longer distance took its toll at the Tour of Flanders, where he lined up as team leader. While Vanmarcke will surely still have a key role to play on Sunday, Farrar stressed that Vansummeren would lead the line.
"We're going into the race purely riding for Summie, but we have to send riders in breaks and cover them and play the team tactic," Farrar said. "We have a few riders who if they get in the right move can do what Johan did last year, but the plan is to support Summie as you would a true contender and let him do his thing."
Perhaps no other race on the calendar introduces as many variables as Paris-Roubaix, and best-laid plans can so often fall apart on the crumbling cobbled tracks that punctuate the race's trek through Picardy and into the Nord.
"You can always make a good plan on paper that sounds perfect, but Roubaix is always chaotic, with things that are out of your control," Farrar said. "We'll build our plan, and try to execute that plan but you have to adapt it as the race goes on.
"A lot of these classics are about having numbers in the finish. The more guys you have in that front group in the last hour, the more leeway you have to adapt yourself to whatever is happening in the race."
The overwhelming favourite for victory on Sunday is Tom Boonen, who is chasing a record-equalling fourth win on the Roubaix velodrome. Farrar agreed that the Tour of Flanders winner had been "pretty untouchable" so far, and the remarkable collective strength of his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team has made the task of toppling Tommeke all the more troublesome.
"I think they're the strongest team in the world for the Classics," Farrar said. "They've been really impressive. You can't argue with the sheer number of victories and the way they've ridden the races. Once a team starts winning like that, they get this momentum and they tend to keep winning like that. Moral is high, everybody is positive and believes in it and it just carries itself."
One threat that Farrar and Garmin-Barracuda won't have to contend with is that of Fabian Cancellara. The RadioShack-Nissan rider broke his collarbone in a crash at the Tour of Flanders, and his absence will alter the approach of a number of contenders to Paris-Roubaix.
"That will change the race as he was someone that every team factored in. It was a case of ‘ok, this is our plan, but what's Fabian going to do?' You look at two years ago, for instance, where he basically just rode away from everybody. He's not there to do that this year, so I think it does open up the race a little bit more."