Thursday, 12 April 2007

Hell of the North...

One of the most epic sporting events in the calendar takes place this Sunday: the Paris-Roubaix one day Spring Classic. The race is the stuff of legend, and only the hardest of pro-cycling's hard men can ever hope to excel there. It takes a special type of rider to tame the many sections of cobbled farm track, and fear of falling as the bike's skinny tyres race at speeds of over 30 mph on the dirty, slippery surfaces can destroy a rider.

Nicknamed 'Hell of The North', the race takes place in Northern France. To the cycling congnoscenti it assumes the same significance as the more famous Tour de France. Undoubtedly the queen of single day races, I'd normally be out riding on the Sunday of the race, returning to slump in front of the TV as I watch the action unfold. This year however I don't even know whether I'll get to see te race, as my TV satellite receiver has stopped working. I'll be hoping for more of the live video streaming on the Eurosport web site, which served me well for last Sunday's Tour of Flanders.

So who is going to win? Well, last year Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara gave a display of such power that he looked a certainty to dominate the race for many years to come. He was quiet last Sunday in Flanders, as was Belgian favorite Tom Boonen, who showed a disappointing lack of form in his home race. The man of the moment has to be Italian Alessandro Ballan, but can he hold his form for an extra week? Leif Hoste was very close to his wheel, and could easily put up a strong showing. It's sure to be a strong 'sprinter deluxe', and even Oscar Friere or Britain's Roger Hammond, who both placed well in Ghent-Wevelgem yesterday, are in with a chance.

My own feeling is that it will be a rider from the CSC team who will be first across the line in the venerable Roubaix velodrome. The team work towards their goals like none since Lance Armstrong's seven times Tour De France winning machine, and director Bjarne Riis brings rider preparation to new levels. If it isn't a back-to-back win for Cancellara, watch out for Stuart O'Grady, or Karsten Kroon, who give Riis an enviable range of options...

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