Fabian Cancellara is hungry for a historic victory and expects Tom Boonen to be at his best come Sunday’s 112th Paris-Roubaix.
“This weekend will be a big fight. He shows again he’s ready, probably more ready than people are thinking,” Cancellara said Friday during his pre-race press conference. “In my own experience, at [Tour of] Flanders I wasn’t super 100 percent, and then the next weekend I was ready. Tom will be up there 100 percent. I believe that and I know that.”
Boonen has suffered through a classics season marred by the miscarriage of his first child and an injury to his right thumb suffered in a crash at E3 Harelbeke. The four-time Roubaix champion was a non-factor at the Ronde van Vlaanderen last Sunday, finishing seventh, 28 seconds behind Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
The Belgian acknowledged on Friday that pressure was building for his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team to land a major classics victory.
“I usually react well under pressure,” Boonen said. “When I feel the cobblestones under my wheels, I usually go fast.”
Cancellara, on the other hand, said he left the pressure behind with his sprint win in Oudenaarde, Belgium, last week.
“They shouldn’t watch me,” he said when asked how it feels to race with the peloton watching him. “With this situation that we saw in Sunday’s race, in Flanders, of course Roubaix is totally different, but Omega Pharma has a super, super strong team. We will also see Belkin have to put control over it, because they have the other main favorite as well for the race, so they have to take the responsibility like normally they never did, I remember from the last few races, especially Sunday (Flanders). … And then we have also Greg Van Avermaet. He shows again he’s in super good condition.”
The four-man sprint win was Cancellara’s first major classic victory from a group of that size. While some have wondered whether it betrayed a case of lacking form for the Swiss, he suggested Friday that the strength of the field was simply better than years past when “Tomeke” and “Spartacus” were heads and shoulders above their contemporaries.
“I’m not the favorite No. 1, no. There’s, like I said in Flanders, there’s lots of other favorites. There’s lots of good riders. This year we have a large field that is strong and on high condition, and that’s why we will see things change this year,” he said.
That parity considered, Cancellara and Boonen are the two men chasing history on Sunday, with the Belgian hunting his record fifth Roubaix title and Trek’s flagship rider trying for an unprecedented third Flanders/Roubaix double.
Cancellara is trying to avoid thinking much about the ramifications of a victory Sunday, however.
“It’s always special when, in your sport, you can reach history,” he said. “I’m hungry, and it’s important I’m hungry, and the rest we will see later, because you have it in the front of you, but I try to blind it out, because if you think too much on history, you make a mistake.”
And a mistake is what the field must hope for from the defending champion. This race, like no other, hinges on luck, after all. The line between brilliance and anonymity is razor thin on the 51.1 kilometers of cobbles that feature along the 257-kilometer course from Compiègne to Roubaix.
“I mean, you must have a good day, you must have a lot of luck, and the race has to go in a direction that suits for this day or suits for me and the team. Of course, things could look good, but you have to push a lot, you have to push a lot of pedals,” said Cancellara. “You have to suffer a lot, you have to get a lot of pain in you, but still, I’m looking forward to a sunny race in France, and to enjoy somehow — it sounds crazy to say enjoy because over the cobbles is not so much enjoyment, it hurts a lot — but I’m in a lucky situation to still get that out because I’ve won Flanders. On Sunday, there are just Tom, me, and [Johan] Vansummeren that has won in those last, last years this race. The rest of the peloton hasn’t won and that probably puts other teams and riders under more pressure.”
Wearing dossard No. 1, Cancellara should leave the start on Sunday relaxed and ready, as he said, to eat. Whether anyone else is up to the task of chewing up the cobbles alongside him is something we will see 164 kilometers later, when the leaders emerge from the Trouée d’Arenberg.
“They are under more pressure, because they haven’t won,” he said. “The campaign for the classics finishes on the velodrome and there are many people still hungry. Let’s go and have some great meat.”