The traditional set-up, whereby riders come into the main square, make their way through a fan and sponsor village before getting up on stage and going away with a goody bag, has been revamped, and the 35-year-old cut a confused figure as he walked straight through the media zone – now the first port of call – without stopping.
When he did get his bearings he returned to answer a few questions and seemed disappointed to discover that time was marching on, with no regard for the importance of his final rituals.
“I spoke to one of our riders, Marco Coledan – it’s his first Paris-Roubaix – and I said ‘let’s go to the presentation, let’s do the loop with all the fans and the sponsors’. But then we came in and you don’t do the loop anymore with all the small gifts – that’s what I explained he would see today,” Cancellara said.
“This has changed, everything is changing,” he mused, shortly before taking to the stage alongside a 23-year-old Jasper Stuyven gleefully brandishing a selfie stick.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) is very much the spearhead of that new generation, and the world champion indulged the big kid inside him when he was given a go with the promotional gun – used by podium girls to launch t-shirts into the air for the crowd.
Having previously used the Tour de France points classification trophy as a mock machine gun, and having spent the aftermath of his Tour of Flanders win playing with a remote control car, Sagan was the perfect man for the job.
“It’s a special and unique race,” Sagan told the media a few moments beforehand. “Roubaix is different to Flanders. The winner needs to be very lucky and be in the front and be in good shape. I just feel good. I’ve picked up experience every day.
When asked what changed for him after winning Flanders, he joked: “Nothing – only more interviews…”
Along with Cancellara and Sagan, the loudest cheers in the square were reserved for Tom Boonen, the joint record holder for most wins at Paris-Roubaix, with four. Though the Etixx-QuickStep rider is a Belgian, with three wins at the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix is his favourite race – he has a special relationship with it, and the French fans with him.
“Ever since the crash last season, this is the race I’ve been preparing for,” Boonen said. “It’s my favourite race, and I’m ready to do something. I’m not doing the race to come fourth or fifth; I’m racing to win.”
Towards the end of the presentation, rain portentously began to fall in Compiègne. Heavy rain was predicted for Sunday at the start of the week, but now it seems like the race itself will be dry, though overnight rainfall could leave its mark on the pavé, with some of the early sectors already being muddy and roughed up.
“The early sectors are the worst, but I don’t see a problem,” Team Sky DS and former winner Servais Knaven told Cyclingnews after coming off the stage. He also revealed he had done a wet and muddy recon with Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard last week, and gave them tips for how to ride in the sort of conditions in which he flourished for his 2001 victory.
“You must not make big accelerations,” he said. “You have to try to keep your line, and don’t touch your breaks when you go of the middle of the cobbles because then for sure you’ll crash.”
Alexander Kristoff played down his chances after coming off his recon ride on Thursday, and the Katusha rider once again pointed to the Tour of Flanders podium – Sagan, Cancellara, and Sep Vanmarcke – as the top three favourites for today.
Having been dropped by Sagan on the Paterberg at Flanders last week, and with Cancellara stronger in the chase, the LottoNL-Jumbo rider was at a loss as to how to get the better of them.
“How’s the tactic? I don’t know, just be stronger and try to drop them, but that’s not easy with those two,” he said. “We have to see how the race develops. I hope I have luck on my side, but it won’t be easy to drop them.”
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