Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack Leopard) may be the overwhelming favourite to take his third Paris-Roubaix title on Sunday but the Swiss has warned his rivals that marking him is not the way to combat his obvious strength.
Cancellara shared the pre-Flanders spotlight with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) but with the 23-year-old wunderkind not racing this weekend, and four-time winner Tom Boonen out injured, the focus has been solely on the RadioShack leader, with the big question being – will Sunday be a contest or procession?
"Sitting on my wheel is not the solution," Cancellara told a packed press conference on Friday afternoon, in the box seat to claim his second Flanders-Roubaix double having first succeeded in 2010.
"We saw five strong riders from BMC on Sunday but they could not deliver what they probably should have delivered," he said. "We've seen other teams that have been up there with a lot of riders [at Flanders] but they didn't move. We know which riders and which teams are for sure going to move somehow on Sunday and that's good for us. Probably bad for the others because when they're just looking at us they make a war between themselves."
Appearing perhaps slightly less fresh-faced as he had a week ago before the media pre-Flanders and with moments where he was not quite as confident, Cancellara did however seem assured by the fact that his team was up to the task at Paris-Roubaix. A crash on Wednesday at the Scheldeprijs followed by another on Thursday during reconnaissance over the 254km parcours no doubt the cause for any hesitation.
Cancellara explained that if there were any lasting effects from his accident early in the Scheldeprijs, they were minimal with Thursday's incident doing the most damage.
"On Wednesday I fell at 55km/h on the ground and yesterday I think was 20km/h," he said. "The differences with low speed you make more damage and I think that's what happened yesterday.
"Yesterday, the only thing that I feel is my left hip bone," he continued. "This is what hurts the most but I think that's normal because on the side where the bones are there's not much skin. Also the elbow was a bit damaged. When you see what hurts after Paris-Roubaix, when you arrive in Roubaix, it's normal that there's damage all over your body."
Admitting that he would be taking to the start line on Sunday morning somewhat "handicapped" the 32-year-old said none of it would matter around six hours later when he rode into the Roubaix Velodrome.
"I'm not worried about it because after Sunday, there's nothing more," Cancellara shrugged. "What's important is that I arrive safe in Roubaix and of course, the way that I want to arrive. Just because of the crash I'm not going to say that second place will be bad.
"I'll just do what I have to do to be ready on the start line on Sunday morning."
No I in team
RadioShack Leopard had come under fire in the lead up to Cancellara's stunning, definitive performance at De Ronde last Sunday, with suggestions that he was a one-man-band. The team made a mockery of such claims with Stijn Devolder proving a faithful lieutenant and the red, white, blue and black squad en masse, working for their leader. It was a performance that proved reassuring for Cancellara.
"We have super-strong riders who I know can pull for a long, long time," he said. "With the big break or without the big break, I'm really, really confident that I have a super strong team around me.
"On Sunday we saw that they're ready and I believe again that on Sunday it will be just the same... This time I'm full 100 percent trusting those guys. With the victory on Sunday, they got a bigger boost that what they've probably had before."
At the same time, Cancellara was adamant that his team would not have it all their own way and there was work still to be done.
"I won't say that we're floating to Sunday, no," he said. "We've really been taking care of ourselves to recover good and be ready just for Sunday."
Much like at Flanders, Sky, BMC, Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Lotto Belisol are again expected to provide the answers is anyone is to respond to Cancellara. Andre Greipel's early attack at Flanders paved the way for his Lotto Belisol teammate Jurgen Roelandts to claim third place but Cancellara said that fortune would again favour the brave, no doubt making life difficult for RadioShack Leopard. He did, however, make clear that the weight of expectations were on his rivals.
"There are a few teams with strong riders, really strong riders and they have to do something," Cancellara said. "That's the problem for them; they have to choose what they want to do."
Cancellara also singled out Sébastien Turgot (Europcar) and his French team explaining that once again, the early break would prove crucial to eventual victory.
"Of course everyone wants to go in the break, anticipate, be relaxed in the front to save a little more energy than maybe the people on the back because when the peloton is moving up you have to fight for position and of course that's harder," he said. "That's why people in the break have a better life but there's not 200 riders that can go in the break."
Paris-Roubaix marks the end of a five-month journey for Cancellara and the RadioShack Leopard classics squad. While admitting that there is no way that he could have suggested that the campaign would play out as successfully as it has, with a win at E3 Harelbeke prior to his Flanders triumph last week, Cancellara said that there was still work to be done.
"We can call us a lucky team because we won, we got the spotlight we got everything – everyone is happy," he admitted. "We could probably fly somewhere to really warm weather that everyone is looking forward to and have a nice time but no, we just continue like we want to continue.
"It's all for Sunday's race. After two crashes we'll just do what we have to do. That's bike racing. [I'm] Racing Roubaix with big ambitions."