How do you solve a problem like Fabian Cancellara? The conundrum facing the peloton ahead of Paris-Roubaix seems an insoluble one and Luca Paolini (Katusha) responded with gallows humour when the question was put to him in Antwerp on Wednesday morning.
"I don't know - maybe we'll have to try with a gun and shoot him," Paolini told Cyclingnews with a hollow laugh, before acknowledging that jumping the gun is a more viable proposition than firing one. "Nah, I think the only solution is to try and anticipate him."
Two years ago, of course, Garmin manager Jonathan Vaughters quipped that it would take a sniper to stop Cancellara on the pavé but ultimately it was one of his own riders, Johan Vansummeren, who upset the odds by attacking early and building up a sufficient lead to hold off Cancellara's ferocious pursuit in the finale.
Vansummeren's cause was helped by the presence of teammate Thor Hushovd as a fast-finishing irritant on Cancellara's rear wheel, and Paolini will line up on Sunday with another rapid Norwegian for company on the Katusha team, the in-form Alexander Kristoff.
"We'll be looking to finish on the podium at least, either with me or with Kristoff," said Paolini, who was speaking outside Antwerp's MAS museum before the start of Scheldeprijs. "It's a tough race but we're taking care to work hard by racing here today, and then tomorrow we'll have a look at the sectors of pavé for Roubaix.
"It's important to come here because it keeps your eye in - it keeps you in race rhythm and it keeps you focused. Racing is the best thing to do to keep it going between the Flanders and Roubaix."
Although Paolini began his professional career alongside Cancellara at Mapei in 2000, their paths quickly diverged - the Swiss dedicated himself to the pavé, while Paolini found himself in the retinue of Paolo Bettini and did not end up making his Paris-Roubaix until 2010, at the age of 33.
"I don't regret that because I had other objectives before," said Paolini, who enjoyed his best finish in Roubaix last year, placing 11th. "I should have a place in the top 10 but I was a bit unlucky and maybe I was lacking a bit of experience in the finale. I'll try and improve on the result this year."
Indeed, the veteran Italian has been enjoying a remarkable Indian summer of late. Following his implication in the Operazione Athena doping scandal [it was eventually announced in late 2011 that he would not be charged], Paolini spent three seasons outside the WorldTour before joining Katusha in 2011 as support for Filippo Pozzato.
Paolini remained with the Russian squad after Pozzato's departure ahead of last season and he has been a strong performer on the cobbles since. At Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February, Paolini claimed his first victory since 2009 by out-sprinting Stijn Vandenbergh in Ghent.
"Het Nieuwsblad was a first test, and it went well, and I've placed well at Milan-San Remo [fifth], Harelbeke [eighth] and the Tour of Flanders [23rd, in the main chase group] since, so now I want to finish the spring well at Paris-Roubaix," Paolini said.
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