By Gerard Knapp
A 15km points score will be added to the end of the Paris-Roubaix Spring Classic from 2008, it has been announced by the race organisers. From next year, as the weary leaders enter the velodrome in Roubaix after pounding their way across some of the worst cobbles in northern Europe, they will have the opportunity to swap bikes and climb aboard track bikes, or continue on their muddy road machines.
If there is a solo rider in the lead, he will still have to complete 45 laps of the track, with intermediate sprints every five laps offering offering a one-minute time bonus. When the remainder of the peloton enters the velodrome, the field will become completely integrated and sprint against the leader, virtually ensuring the winner will come from a major team.
While traditionalists are expected to be outraged, Cyclingnews has learned it's part of a secret plan to improve TV ratings, and make the race a 'breakthrough' event in key markets.
According to an American TV executive who negotiated the changes with the organisers, "the aim is to allow Tom Boonen's Quick Step squad to end any other rider's hopes of winning, and ensure the popular Belgian rider wins the Queen of the Classics".
"If we know who is going to win, regardless of what actually happens on the road, then we can really sell it in these new markets. After all, they won't know of the race's great history, but they love crashes, and this race has lots of pile-ups and mud. Heaps of mud. Even if it doesn't rain, we'll make sure the cobbles are treacherous. And then we can have more carnage on that Nascar-looking concrete thing and the blonde guy wins! Awesome!"
The unnamed executive said the race organisers were inspired by recent races where rules were abandoned so a local hero could win. "Take the Tour of California," he continued. "We neautralised a stage finish because the hometown hero, Levi .... er, something, was caught behind a major crash. He would have lost his lead had the rules been properly applied.
"But it was more important for ratings that he kept his lead, and that race didn't really care about rules, anyway. They even forgot to do proper drug testing."
A French TV executive commented: "We saw what those innovative Americans did with their California tour. They 'ave big crash, and that ensure air-time because the networks don't care who win stage, as long as there is big crash and blood. And then they finish with local hero smiling on podium. Create suspense? Non! Make it predictable. Magnifique!"
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