Paris-Roubaix: Hell's Back

 Another day in Hell!

Paris-Roubaix holds dear to my heart as the most exciting, gut-wrenching and difficult race of the season.

This time is the golden time. What a fantastic race of attrition it is, complete with drama mixed with unrelenting chaos does it for me. And the weather plays a major role; rain showers and now sun is in the forecast and that means a heighten sense of drama either way to deal with the cobblestones. At times a challenge for the expert bike handlers just to stay on top of the bike and not crash on the jagged stones or get thrown into a ditch. That happened to George Hincapie in 2002.

If the weather sways towards the nasty rain, crosswinds will also batter the tired riders. The 2002 edition was the last time with rain and muddy pave adding to the spectacle with great imagery. Then again, dry choking, blinding dust isn't any better.

What's pave? Just centuries old cobblestones laid during the reign of Napoleon. Misshapen by World War I, the aftermath of the devastated landscape was notably called... the Hell of the North.

"First run in 1896, and since been run every year except during the war years. And every year adds to the legend ... the Hell of the North."

... A Sunday In Hell, Jørgen Leth

This race is important to the riders. "A rider who wins it ... well his career is made," said two-time winner Sean Kelly. The winner takes 30,000 Euros, the cobblestone trophy plus legendary status of the sport.

"The best I could do would be to describe it like this: They plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter and then just drop a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That's Paris-Roubaix. It's that bad, it's ridiculous."

... Chris Horner

Before the riders can finish the 257.5km race, there's 27 sections of pave totaling 51.5km that are in the way to glory. The famous Arenberg Forest, with moss problems, was in question but no more, it's back. The Arenberg is special, the cobblestones bigger, and only open once a year for Paris-Roubaix. These cobblestones are not the same as their Belgian cousins. Bigger and badder... more space in between with sharp stones lay in wait for punctures. Barely fit for tractors let alone bicycles.

Bicycle and parts manufacturer's have a field day showcasing their new products for the ultimate testing ground. Most of the bikes won't have a second life after the punishment. Tyres are wider pumped to half the pressure to absorb the pounding of the pave. Garmin's bikes are being glued into place so they don't rattle loose.

What about the contenders?

There's many contenders especially with Cancellara absent due to a broken collarbone suffered in the Tour of Flanders. Tom Boonen is the ultimate favorite, the man to beat. Can he equal the record of four victories by Roger De Vlaeminck? He has the best team of the classics working for him and if things go sideways, Sylvain Chavanel could become the next Frenchman to win it. Frédéric Guesdon is the last Frenchman to win (1997) and will be back to end his career on a high, finishing his 17th PR. BMC's George Hincapie is also back and gunning for his 17th finish and will be called upon to help an underachieving Thor Hushovd achieve his goal for victory. The God of Thunder is now 34 and the pressure to win is huge, it's his goal of the season. This added pressure, especially within the cavernous talent laden BMC team, could finally uncork the winning genie out of the bottle. Look out for Allesandro Ballan & Greg Van Avermaet to be dangerous for the BMC red machine.

Fillipo Pozzato, named as the strongest rider in the Tour of Flanders, has shown strong form back from his collarbone injury. Juan Antonio Flecha is back, but is he healthy from his broken hand enough to pull the bow and shoot the arrow? He finished 20th in Flanders and I like his chances to hoist that pave trophy. Teammate, Edvald Boasson Hagen is classic tough and could be there at the end.

Johan Van Summeren, last year's winner cannot be discounted out of the running. He's co-leader along with the up and coming Sep Vanmarcke. Two tough Flemish riders will challenge along with an eager Haussler and Farrar.

Whoever will win this great race, it promises to be a hell of an epic time!

This epic race deserves a great cycling cap.

© Red Dots Cycling