Each year Paris-Roubaix’s course differs slightly from years past; this year’s course covers 259 kilometers of flat, winding roads. Of that, 52.9km will be on uneven and slippery cobblestone stretches referred to as “sectors,” divided into 27 sections (click here for the 2010 sector list). However there are certain inevitable truths to every Roubaix: it always starts in Compiegne, north of Paris, and finishes on the outdoor velodrome in Roubaix, near the Belgian border; it also almost always delivers the 2.4km cobblestone section through the Forest of Arenberg, where crashes, punctures and separation are all but guaranteed.
Weather always plays an important role. The forecast for Sunday is sunny and mild, with a high near 54 degrees, meaning it will be a fast 108th edition of the race.
“It looks like it will be a dry Roubaix,” Boonen said. “This means it will be a fast race. Technically it will be easier for us, especially out of the corners.”
Dry doesn’t mean easy, however. A wet Roubaix means it’s slower and more technical; a dry Roubaix means riders hit the cobbles faster, causing more jarring on their bodies and vision, and they must also contend with the breathing and visibility hazards of dust kicked up off the cobblestones. Last year, in dry conditions, just 99 of the 187 starters finished.
Asked which section seemed the nastiest during Quick Step’s reconnaissance ride Friday, Boonen pointed not to the Arenberg but to the Beuvry-la-Foret at Orchies, sector 13, which has been dedicated to France’s two-time Roubaix winner Marc Madiot, now a director at Française des Jeux. It’s the section where a race motorcycle crashed into spectators last year, injuring three seriously.
“The cobblestones are far apart from each other making it a really difficult surface to ride,” Boonen said. “The cobblestones on the ground are as if a big truck dumped them and just left them there. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for this sector on Sunday, as it is approached by a wide-open sector of road where we’ll be pedaling at high speed. There are still 60km remaining, so the race will be pretty broken up, and it is not so long. But last year I attacked there and we went away with 10 guys.”
If Boonen attacks in the same spot on Sunday, it’s a safe bet Cancellara will be glued to his wheel. Asked how he would try to avoid another scenario like at Flanders, Boonen scoffed at the notion.
“I want to have the same scenario,” he told VeloNews. “And I will try to stay with him. It’s not useful to try to make a one-man show with a rider as strong as he is. I will try to stay with him, and beat him in the sprint. But it’s always a different scenario at Roubaix than at the Tour of Flanders. You can’t compare the two races.”
The battle between Cancellara, Boonen and the rest of the contenders starts at 10:35 local time Sunday morning. Roughly six and a half hours later, the winner will be known.
Favored teams and their marquee riders
Quick Step: Tom Boonen (Belgium), Stijn Devolder (Belgium), Sylvain Chavanel (France), Maarten Wynants (Belgium)
Saxo Bank: Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Stuart O’Grady (Australia), Matti Breschel (Netherlands), Baden Cooke (Australia)
Garmin-Transitions: Martijn Maaskant (Netherlands), Johan Van Summeren (Belgium), Tyler Farrar (USA), David Millar (Great Britain)
Cervélo TestTeam: Thor Hushovd (Norway), Roger Hammond (Great Britain), Dominique Rollin (Canada), Andreas Klier (Germany), Théo Bos (Netherlands)
Team Sky: Juan Antonio Flecha (Spain), Michael Barry (Canada), Greg Henderson (New Zealand), Mathew Hayman (Australia)
Omega Pharma-Lotto: Leif Hoste (Belgium), Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
Katusha: Filippo Pozatto (Italy), Serguei Ivanov (Russia)
BMC Racing: George Hincapie (USA), Marcus Burghardt (Germany), Karsten Kroon (Netherlands)
Rabobank: Lars Boom (Netherlands), Sebastian Langeveld (Netherlands)
HTC-Columbia: Bernhard Eisel (Austria), Hayden Roulston (New Zealand)
Cervelo: Heinrich Haussler (Germany)
Team Sky: Edvald Boassan Hagen (Norway)
BMC Racing: Alessandro Ballan (Italy)
Rabobank: Nick Nuyens (Belgium)
HTC-Columbia: Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
Omega Pharma-Lotto: Phillipe Gilbert (Belgium)