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After a miserable Flanders, the squad, with two former winners, is hungry for Paris-Roubaix

Danish oufit CSC will be fired up to make amends for their debacle on the cobble of the snow-hit Flanders last week when they line up two former champions at Paris-Roubaix this Sunday. CSC goes into the 259.5km cobblestoned classic, known ominously as the 'Hell of the North,' as big favorites having won the past two years through Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Australian Stuart O'Grady. A rare hat-trick of wins is credible, and will be further boosted by their bid to banish the demons of last week's Tour of Flanders where they were decimated by crashes and punctures.

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Three in a row for CSC is a possibility

By Justin Davis, Agence France Presse

Danish oufit CSC will be fired up to make amends for their debacle on the cobble of the snow-hit Flanders last week when they line up two former champions at Paris-Roubaix this Sunday.

CSC goes into the 259.5km cobblestoned classic, known ominously as the ‘Hell of the North,’ as big favorites having won the past two years through Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Australian Stuart O’Grady.

A rare hat-trick of wins is credible, and will be further boosted by their bid to banish the demons of last week’s Tour of Flanders where they were decimated by crashes and punctures.

However CSC, and every other team lining up for the second of the cycling season’s one-day ‘monuments’ — after Milan-SanRemo — are aware the race has a flavor all of its own that can leave even the best prepared, and most determined teams with a painful aftertaste.

It was in dry and sunny conditions last year that O’Grady rode off the front to become Australia’s first winner in Roubaix.

But after years of being chewed up by the tough northern classics, he knows the ride into ‘Hell’ — which this year could be hit by cold and rain — can be fraught with danger, and tough opponents.

“We’ll be one of the teams to beat. But there’s a lot of good riders and a lot of good teams out there,” O’Grady told AFP after he failed to finish in Flanders last Sunday.

“To win these big classics it takes a lot more than a lot of good luck. Everything has to fall in your favor on the day.”

Luck becomes arguably the number one factor in Paris-Roubaix, which this year includes 28 sectors of cobblestones totalling 52.8 of the race’s total. The ever-present likelihood of punctures is the reason most of the peloton try to ride on the side of the road where the rugged cobblestones are flatter.

But even with the possibility of being handed a replacement wheel or bike from a team car, the reduced chances — in the event of disaster — of catching runaway rivals makes puncturing or crashing something everyone wants to avoid.

It’s exactly what happened to former three-time Tour of Flanders runner-up Leif Hoste when, despite being given a new bike by his team car after his gears broke, he was left playing catch-up for the remainder of Sunday’s race.

Hoste, who also has a solid record in Roubaix but has yet to win, knows good fortune plays a major role.

“The most important thing I can do is hang with the best. Winning depends on the details,” he told Sporza.be.

Predicted rain and cold temperatures will also be giving the peloton cause for concern and will barely hearten O’Grady, who suffered in the chill of Flanders last week.

The Australian is still searching for full form following the serious crash at last year’s Tour de France which has compromised his early season, and so CSC are likely to ask Kurt-Asle Arvesen, Lars Bak and Matti Breschel to do their best to support Cancellara.

The Milan-San Remo champion will still have to fight off the threat of Belgian’s Tom Boonen, and a handful of other contenders.

Boonen is possibly still smarting after his Quick Step teammate Stijn Devolder rode away with 26km to go to claim victory in Flanders last week, and victory Sunday would more than make amends for what has been a comparably mediocre season so far for the former world champion.

Rabobank’s Juan Antonio Flecha is another contender, and he could give Spain their first win on the race having finished second behind O’Grady last year and placing third last week in Flanders.

American George Hincapie will be backed by a confident High Road team that will be dedicated to grinding out a win if they get luck on their side.

“All we need is a bit of luck because luck is a key factor in Roubaix,” said team manager Brian Holm.

“I always spend the whole of the race with my fingers crossed, hoping that
nobody will puncture at the wrong moment or crash.”