Tomorrow (tomorrow night for those of us in Australia) is the running of the 'Queen of the Classics' - Paris-Roubaix.
Arguably the toughest race of the year, the 'Hell of the North' is run over about 260km. It starts in Compiegne and finishes in Roubaix, in the north of France. It is a relatively flat race, but its defined by its cobbled sections - 27 sections of rough cobblestones, ranging in length from just 300m to 3.7km, for a total of around 52km.
It is only one week after the Tour of Flanders (won by Tom Boonen), and in many ways Flanders is a great predictor of what will happen in Roubaix:
Why Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are similar
Both races have extensive cobbled sections. The races are very tough on equipment. They are less 'team' races than others, with individual strength needed to succeed due to the cobbles, narrow roads, and difficult terrain.
Why Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are different
Flanders is a hilly race, while Paris-Roubaix is very flat in comparison. The types of cobbles are very different too - in Belgium, the cobbles are relatively smoother and better maintained. The Roubaix cobbles are brutal, much larger and sharper, and will shake you and your bike to smithereens.
So of course, the million-dollar question is - who is going to win Parix-Roubaix this year?
My prediction - Filippo Pozzatto (Farnese-Vini)
2012 has ben a resurgent year for Pozzatto. He is in a new team (Farnese-Vini), and is racing strongly and with a renewed positivity. He came second in Flanders, but for mine was the strongest rider out there - he just couldn't quite outsprint Boonen on the day.
The minor placings - Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and Alessandro Ballan (BMC)
Ballan is in fantastic form, as shown by his 3rd place last week in Flanders. He'll be right up there again, but will be outsprinted by Pozzatto and Boasson Hagen at the line. Expect him to be in the front pack dictating the pace in the final stages of this race.
Boasson Hagen is also in good form. He came in 19th last week in amongst the chasing pack, but the flatter terrain of Paris-Roubaix will suit him much more. I expect him to shine on Sunday night, coming in 2nd.
Expect Sylvain Chavanel (OmegaPharma-Quickstep) to feature strongly. He is also in terrific form, and will race aggressively. He'll feature in the Top 5. Oscar Freire (Katusha), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and Bjorn Leukemans (Vacansoleil) should also appear at the top end of the result sheet.
My heart also says Heinrich Haussler (Garmin Barracuda) will do well. He hasn't been in terrific form in recent years, but is starting to look good again. I would love nothing more than to see a break-out performance from Haussler - he is one of my favourite riders!!i
Controversially, I'm leaving Boonen out of contention. He is deservedly the bookie's favourite for this race - he is in sensational form!! But Paris-Roubaix is an unpredictable race, and I think Boonen will suffer here as he attempts to achieve his second Flanders-Roubaix double victory. My bold prediction is that Boonen will DNF due to a bad crash or equipment failure.
Final predicted order:
1. Pozzatto, 2. Boasson Hagen, 3. Ballan, 4. Chavanel, 5. Haussler, 6. Freire, 7. Flecha, 8. Leukemans.
I came close last week - let's see how I go this time!!