By Daniel Benson
Magnus Backstedt may have retired from elite competition but the 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner has kept a close eye on the pros. On the eve of the race he took time out to talk favourites and parcours with Cyclingnews.
"This is the most open race in years," he said. "I think we could have a surprise winner at the end of the race. You just have to look at the racing this year, it's been very, very open and watching and commentating has been absolutely spectacular."
The Swede, a former Garmin-Slipstream rider, competed in seven editions of the race. He believes that after their domination at Flanders, Boonen's Quick Step team has the potential tools to dominate. "Quick Step has always raced strongly at this time of year and they'll continue that in Roubaix. They'll have strength in numbers and Roubaix is one of those races where that counts, so if a big star gets caught out they have a second hand to play. However, this is a much harder race to control. If you look at Columbia, with Boasson Hagen and George Hincapie, they have a strong team too."
Boasson Hagen's breakthrough win in Gent-Wevelgem caught Backstedt's eye in particular. "Edvald was so strong so he could have another really good ride. Cervélo look like they're starting to tire but they keep pulling it out of the bag every time they race."
However, Backstedt thought that one particular rider might not have the legs for Sunday's race. "I'm not sure about Cancellara as it's difficult to tell how good he is. Don't count him out, though. He'll have prepared for this race and he's the type of rider who can perform on any given day. I just worry whether he's got the miles in his legs."
During his final season as professional Backstedt witnessed Martijn Maaskant's development first hand and the pair rode together in the Swede's final Roubaix, with Maaskant finishing fourth. "As long as Martijn can cope with the pressure I think he'll be up there as a major force. After what he did last year he'll have to do all his talking with his legs, though. He won't get anything for free, I can guarantee that. Finishing fourth in Flanders shows he has the form."
Backstedt believes that team support will be crucial if the Dutchman is to repeat or better his 2008 result. "Garmin possibly lacks strength, but in the last couple of races they have pulled together well. As long as they have support for Martijn until the second feed, at 200 kilometres, he should be fine. After that it's every man for himself. They have got the strength to do that."
The former winner played down any relevance in the change of course, which has seen a section of pavé removed from before the famous Arenberg forest. "What you do before the forest doesn't make any difference; it's what you do through the forest and after it that really counts. It will be interesting to see who is going well in that section, but you can't win the race there. The course change doesn't make too much difference."
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.