Following last Sunday’s ride, Fabian Cancellara will start Paris-Roubaix as the nailed on favourite. Not just nailed on, but glued, tied and bound with a toestrap too.
But that’s to ignore the beauty of sport and cycling. Sport means the winner is never certain and this holds true for cycling more than most other sports. 220 riders will start in Compiègne and whilst few will harbour real ambitions of winning, a good few will be focussed on just this task. So here are some suggestions on how to beat the Swiss champion.
Make Saxo Stew
Because Cancellara is the favourite this places extra responsibility on his Saxo Bank team. They will be forced to watch the early breaks and just as they were on the front of half of the Ronde, so they will be expected to do even more on the road to Roubaix.
Send a man up the road
Some squads in particular have some very good second-string riders. When Stuart O’Grady won the race in 2007, it was because he went in an early move and this ensured he was at the front of the race all day, whilst his breakaway companions were picked off, his presence – he’s been a contender in the race since he and Gan teammate Henk Vogels first rode – ensured the other teams were forced to follow.
Specifically Quick Step must find a way to get Devolder up the road. In the same instance, Cervélo need to get Roger Hammond in the same move. And one or two other teams need to place their protected rider in the early move, for example Omega Pharma – Lotto need to play a long game and get Hoste away. Easy to say, I know…
Strength in numbers
Some teams have multiple cards to play. Whilst Saxo themselves have Breschel on fire, other teams have a similar luxury. When you have a hand like this, it’s time to play it rather than wait. So Rabobank need to get Langeveld and Boom ready, the same goes for BMC with Hincapie and Burghardt. Hennie Kuiper once said “The art of racing is licking your opponent’s plate clean before you start on yours” and whilst some riders might want to wait until the last moment before using their ammo, this will only play into Cancellara’s hands. If he’s in the lead group as they head to the Carrefour de l’Arbre, you know exactly what he’ll do and riders need to preempt this.
Despite plenty of springtime surprises, I can’t see a French rider influencing the race, unless they really dynamite the race. Lloyd Mondory was 14th last Sunday and Steve Chainel was strong, and maybe veteran winner Guesdon can pull something out of the hat. But they won’t achieve this by waiting for the others, again they need to shape the race.
Maybe it’s time for some unknown manneke (little man) to win. We’ve seen the race slowed by favourites watching each other, for example in 1988 Dirk Demol had barely won a couple of kermesses but too many riders were watching Laurent Fignon so by the time the Frenchman went on the rampage it was too late. Survivors from rthe early break ended up winning, with Demol benefitting from Swiss train Thomas Wegmuller’s efforts, the Belgian despatching Wegmuller in the finish. In a different manner Frenchman Frédéric Guesdon won after latching onto the back of a group of favourites, he had the talent to stay with them but nobody had heard of him and he launched a surprise coup in the velodrome.
Aim for second
A French rider once covered all the cobbles only to find the Velodrome gates were closed. After an argument he hopped over the gates and started riding his final laps on the track… whilst a derny race was taking place. He would later tell younger team mates “you’re only a rider if you make it to Roubaix before the gates close”. This is an honorable attitude and ignoring Cancellara might be a useful option. So what if he wins? Many riders would still love a podium place, it’s a worthy result.
Paris-Roubaix is a lottery. You make your own luck by being towards the front, in choosing your own line but an ill-timed puncture or mechanical means game over. So as much as my ideas above involve dynamiting the race, perhaps the craftiest rider will be aiming for second place – as above – but hoping a puncture does it for Cancellara. The Swiss rider has to change bikes last weekend, what if he is forced to do this again, only on a stretch of cobbles where there’s no team car?
Cancellara isn’t a poor sprinter but since everyone knows his style is all about getting a gap and then riding away, the trick is to watch out for the slightest acceleration and to remain glued to his wheel. If you can stop him pulling away and your name is Boonen, Hushovd or Pozzatto, then your chances of winning are massively increased.
Watch Cancellara: when he was riding with Boonen last Sunday he didn’t miss a turn on the front. At times I wondered if he was towing Tom to the finish but they say that Cancellara works hard when he knows he’s on a good day. If he’s sitting on the wheels on Sunday then it’s a sign he’s on a bad day, he’s not just saving energy but his legs are bad.
Finally, Cancellara isn’t superhuman. He had a great ride last weekend but Boonen is clearly in excellent form too. The Swiss rider’s favourite status is confirmed but a great ride one week doesn’t always mean you can repeat it. I suspect he won’t be as dominant purely because he’ll be heavily marked.
If I’m writing on ways to beat him, you can expect most DSs have spent the entire week thinking the same. What do you think? If you were the DS of a team, how would you play it?