By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiegne
Italian Quick.Stepper Filippo Pozzato doesn't look like a cobble specialist. The recent winner of Milano-Sanremo will also show up in the Amstel Gold Race. But he's not thinking too much about that race right now; last year in Roubaix, Pippo did a great job creating the decisive escape but he faded out of the picture later on.
He looks hungry for a good performance this year: "This is my second showing in Paris-Roubaix. It is a difficult race but it suits me very well," Pozzato said. "Tom Boonen and I will make the race tough for the others. My work in the Tour of Flanders [Pippo worked tirelessly for Boonen - ed.] will give me payback chances in Paris-Roubaix.
"The forest of Arenberg made a big impression on me, it's really hell. The speeds are very high, up to 70 km/h and you haven't got much control on the bike because of those speeds. You have to concentrate on your pedalling as well. Combine that with the difficulty to shift your gears and you know that the first kilometre of the forest is the toughest part of the whole race. Franco Ballerini advised me to be up front over there, but he also said that I shouldn't do it against all costs. If it's too hard to get up front, he said that I'd better drop a few place as the risks are too high.
"I didn't love Paris-Roubaix, but I'm fascinated about the charm of the race. Probably, the most important thing is to stay on your bike and spare as much energy as possible going into the finale."
Coach of the Quick.Step team is Wilfried Peeters. The former lieutenant of Johan Museeuw stood twice on the podium in the velodrome in Roubaix with a third place in 1998 and a second place in 1999, also finishing fifth in 2001. Looking at these results, he should be able to tell us what it takes to be good in this race: "Riding on the cobbles is like a man-to-man battle," said Peeters.
"I know that our men can handle that kind of battle very well. Probably, nobody really likes riding on cobbles but they all see it as an enormous challenge. The race situation in Paris-Roubaix can change every moment with bad luck looking around every corner. That way, it's good to know that all our riders can perform at their best."
Triple winner in 1996, 2000 and 2002 was the 'Lion of Flanders', Johan Museeuw. Nowadays he functions as a PR-man for the Quick.Step team. On Belgian radio Studio Brussel, he commented about his past feelings with this race: "Paris-Roubaix gave me beautiful moments but it also brought me a lot of pain. Coming back in this race and winning it in 2002 was one of the greatest performances of my career. It was also the tenth classic that I won, so it was a very strong emotion to grab that win."
Big favourite for the win is Tom Boonen, often referred to as the crown prince of Museeuw. "We are different riders though," said Museeuw. "He was there winning classics at a very young age. I managed to win my first classic at the age of 25. At that moment, I was still a pure sprinter.
"Starting to ride with the Mapei team in Italy and working with Patrick Lefevere got me transformed into a classics specialist. That's the main common thing between Boonen and me. He's able to win the same races like I did. Also as a human, he's very different. I'm a very shy, modest person, Boonen is more a flamboyant guy. He's not afraid to say how things should be said. For the audience it must be great to have such a rider. If he says that he's going to win, he does and that's great. We had the same thing with Frank Vandenbroucke, but he lost much of his glory."
Museeuw expects to see the following riders on the podium next Sunday: "Winner: Van Petegem. Second: Hushovd. And Boonen third. Everyone is naming Tom as the number one, and I am not doing that!" said the Quick Step PR officer.