The record 30-year drought since France's last Tour de France victory tends to grab the headlines but it's worth recalling that 18 years have now passed since Frédéric Guesdon became the last home winner of Paris-Roubaix when he surprised Johan Museeuw, Andrei Tchmil et al in a gripping sprint finish on the velodrome.
After retiring in 2012, Guesdon remained at FDJ as a directeur sportif, and he now finds himself in the position of offering guidance to the man viewed by many as his most likely successor at Roubaix, Arnaud Démare.
Démare impressed en route to his 12th place finish last season, and at just 23 years of age, time is certainly on his side in a race traditionally viewed as something of an older man's game. But Guesdon, who won the race as a rather callow third-year professional in 1997, believes that Démare is already capable of landing Paris-Roubaix this season.
"It's possible this year, Arnaud already did a very nice Paris-Roubaix last year, so anything is possible," Guesdon told Cyclingnews in Kuurne on Sunday. "Physically he's certainly capable, so I don't see why he can't do it in 2015. We're certainly going to approach the race aiming to win it with him.
"It's hard to plan for an ideal scenario at Roubaix, but he has an advantage in that he has a real turn of speed so he's not obliged to try and attack alone, he can win it in a sprint. That's certainly not a bad option to have."
An untimely puncture ahead of the Leberg – one of a spate of such mishaps for the FDJ team – made for a frustrating afternoon for Démare at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, and the Beauvais native had to settle for 10th place, near the head of a main peloton that came in almost five minutes down on winner Ian Stannard (Sky).
"We had some bad luck with five punctures and that ruined our race a little bit but the lads were still up there and despite everything, Arnaud still fought through and took 10th place," Guesdon said. "We're not exactly satisfied with that but we can't be too disappointed either."
Though ostensibly better suited to his characteristics as a fast man, Démare opted not to start Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne on Sunday, preferring instead to return home and prepare for Paris-Nice. "That was planned from the start of the season," Guesdon said. "He's just done Qatar and Oman, he's got Paris-Nice next week and all the Classics after that, so he needed to take a breather. It was going to be difficult to do both races this weekend at a good level."
Démare's absence means that he does not go head-to-head with his old teammate Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) on Sunday, to the disappointment, one imagines, of the contingent of French journalists who made the trek across the border for the weekend's racing. Rivals since their amateur days, the unease that marked Démare and Bouhanni's cohabitation at FDJ was an open secret last year, but Guesdon downplayed the idea that their separation makes any material difference to Démare in 2015.
"It doesn't change anything for him because apart from a couple of times in the year, they were riding different races anyway," Guesdon said. "This year, Nacer will be at Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem, some of the races he wanted to do before, but that won't change anything for Arnaud."
After getting off the mark early last year, both Démare and Bouhanni are still seeking their first victories of the new campaign. Ideally, Guesdon conceded, Démare would reach April with a couple of wins already chalked up but he added that the Frenchman's early-season programme has been built expressly around Paris-Roubaix this time around.
"It's frustrating for him that he hasn't won yet because he's a born winner," Guesdon said. "I wouldn't say it's essential that he wins a race before we get to April either, but it's always better for the confidence, of course. Obviously, the aim is to win on D-Day, but so much the better if you can grab a win or two along the way too.
"Apart from Kuurne, his early-season programme is pretty similar this year, but he does want to reach top form a little bit later, in the month of April, and we're not there yet. But his preparation hasn't changed much: Arnaud just has a bit of extra experience now and that's really what he was lacking last year."
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