By Rufus Staffordshire
A 15km points score will be added to the end of the Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic from 2008, it has been announced by the race organisers. From next year, as the weary leaders enter the velodrome in Roubaix after pounding their way across some of the worst cobbles in northern Europe, they will have the opportunity to swap bikes and climb aboard track bikes, or continue on their muddy road machines.
If there is a solo rider in the lead, he will have to complete 45 laps of the track, with intermediate sprints every five laps offering offering a one-minute time bonus for the first rider across the line. When the remainder of the peloton enters the velodrome, the field will become completely integrated and sprint against the leader, virtually ensuring the winner will come from a major team.
While traditionalists are expected to be outraged, Cyclingnews has learned it's part of a secret plan to improve TV ratings, and make the race a 'breakthrough' event in key markets. According to an American TV executive who negotiated the changes with the organisers, "the aim is to ensure that blonde guy ... Boner, is it? ... wins the Queen of the Classics".
"If we know who is going to win, regardless of what actually happens on the road, then we can really sell it in these new markets. This race has lots of pile-ups and mud. Even if it doesn't rain, we'll make sure there's mud. And then we can have more carnage on that NASCAR-looking concrete thing and the blonde guy wins! Awesome!"
The unnamed executive said the race organisers were inspired by recent races where rules were abandoned so a local hero could win. "Take the Tour of California," he continued. "They neutralised a stage finish because the hometown hero, Levi .... er, something, was caught behind a major crash. He would have lost his lead had the rules been properly applied.
"But it was important for ratings that he kept his lead, and that race had its own rulebook. They even forgot to do proper drug testing."