When it comes to one-day racing, Paris-Roubaix is in a class of its own. No other Classic is so unpredictable, so dangerous, so eventful. It is cycling?s last true vestige of old school, pre-SRM racing. Each year Paris-Roubaix takes us back to a terrain and time where tarmacked roads were the exception, not the norm, and when all that really counted was strength, talent and, above all, luck.

Perhaps the biggest question of Paris-Roubaix 2009 is: will Quick Step dominate in the same way they controlled the Tour of Flanders so successfully last Sunday?

Quick Step had three major cards to play in Flanders – Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder and Sylvain Chavanel. They used them more than well: Devolder broke away to win alone, whilst Chavanel blocked for his team-mate in the chasing group behind, and then Boonen blocked in the main peloton.

The Belgian squad are therefore equally likely to make the running in Roubaix, too, and with the same three riders. After winning Flanders for a second year in a row, their morale is sky-high and on top of that, last year after winning Flanders with Devolder, Boonen was first across the line in Paris-Roubaix.

As if that were not enough, it’s true there are three former winners on the start-line – Boonen (2005 and 2008), Servais Knaven (2001) and Fabian Cancellara (2007). But Boonen is the only one to have won it twice and on no less than nine occasions since Franco Ballerini won it in 1995, Quick Step manager Patrick Lefevre has been the manager in the winner?s team car. History, therefore, is seriously in Quick Step’s favour.

However, there are several factors that could easily disrail the Quick Step train. Firstly, with so many top riders, there?s always the possibility that team unity within Quick Step could suddenly collapse.

It?s not that we believe Filippo Pozzato?s claim that Boonen was trying to combine with him against Devolder last Sunday. It?s more that there?s quite a bit of historical precedent for teams with more than one leader falling out.

Secondly, the other teams know much more of Quick Step?s tactics in advance. THey know Devolder, barely mentioned in the press before Flanders, is a force to be reckoned with. They know Boonen is itching to take a big win, and that Chavanel is on song.

So it would be highly unlikely for Katusha?s Pozzato (we hope) to stick to Boonen?s back wheel like glue for a second Sunday running, and lose the race in the process.

Thirdly, it?s not as if the other teams will just lie down and take their Quick Step flavoured medicine on this year’s 51.2 kilometres of cobbles.

Silence-Lotto for one, are in dire need of a major result. Cervélo were present throughout Flanders and collectively only just weaker than Quick Step, and have strong riders like Thor Hushovd and Briton Roger Hammond. Katusha, if Pozzato doesn?t get Boonen-fixated, could suddenly take control.

Then there?s Rabobank, of course, whose Juan Antonio Flecha is in great shape. As for Columbia-Highroad, they currently have a phenomonal success rate, they have just won Ghent-Wevelgem, and they have one of Roubaix?s most consistent riders, George Hincapie, in their line-up, too. And SaxoBank?s Fabian Cancellara, the 2006 winner, must be itching to prove to all of his critics that he?s not finished by any means.

Fourthly, this is Paris-Roubaix. It?s the most unpredictable Classic on the calendar. Strategy counts for far less than at Flanders, and luck a whole lot more. Boonen may be the man to beat, but his victory is anything but a foregone conclusion.


PARIS-ROUBAIX: THE FAVOURITES

We’ve compiled two lists of favourites. The ‘A’ list consists of pre-race hot tips who are currently on form and/or have a previous good track record at the event.

The ‘B’ list is more a selection of riders who could break through if they get in a good escape, or luck shines on them in a chaotic bunch finish.

A LIST

Tom Boonen (Quick Step) – winner in 2008 and 2005

Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) – double winner of Flanders

George Hincapie (Columbia-Highroad) – 2005 podium finisher

Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) – former podium finisher

Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto) – triple Flanders podium finisher

Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank) – former winner

Roger Hammond (Cervélo) – former podium finisher

Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) – E3 Harelbeke winner

B LIST

Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) – on the up

Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) – former Het-Volk, Wevelgem winner

Marcus Burghardt (Columbia-Highroad) – former Wevelgem winner

Heinrich Haussler (Cervélo) – Flanders runner-up

Servais Knaven (Milram) – former winner

Matti Breschel (Saxo Bank) – on good form

Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) – on good form

Frederic Guesdon (Francaise des Jeux) – former winner

The weather

The current state of the cobbles is that they are wet and very muddy. However, it’s forecast to be dry on Sunday, it was warm and dry on Friday in France, and currently the weather is improving fast.


PARIS-ROUBAIX: THE BRITS


Roger Hammond (Cervelo Test Team)

Jeremy Hunt (Cervelo Test Team)

Bradley Wiggins (Garmin)



RECENT WINNERS

2008 Tom Boonen (Belgium) Quick Step

2007 Stuart O?Grady (Australia) CSC

2006 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) CSC

2005 Tom Boonen (Belgium) Quick Step

2004 Magnus Backstedt (Sweden) Alessio-Bianchi

2003 Peter Van Petegem (Belgium) Lotto-Domo

2002 Johan Museeuw (Belgium) Domo-Farm Frites

2001 Servais Knaven (Holland) Domo-Farm Frites

2000 Johan Museeuw (Belgium) Mapei-Quick Step

1999 Andrea Tafi (Italy) Mapei-Quick Step

1998 Franco Ballerini (Italy) Mapei-Bricobi


BEST BRITISH RESULTS

Barry Hoban and Roger Hammond are the only British riders to make the podium at Paris-Roubaix.

Arthur Linton was fourth in the very first edition in 1896. Hoban was 2-13 behind winner Roger De Vlaeminck in 1972. Hammond contested the sprint at the finish in 2004 and was edged out by Magnus Backstedt and Tristan Hoffman. Here are the Brits who have made the top 20.

3rd

Barry Hoban 1972

Roger Hammond 2004

4th

Arthur Linton 1896

5th

Sean Yates 1994

6th

Tom Simpson 1965

7th

Roger Hammond 2007

8th

Tom Simpson 1963

Sean Yates 1993

9th

Tom Simpson 1960

10th

Tom Simpson 1964

Barry Hoban 1969

12th

Max Sciandri 2001

13th

Michael Wright 1969

15th

Paul Sherwen 1983

16th

Barry Hoban 1968

Barry Hoban 1971

Max Sciandri 2002

17th

Roger Hammond 2003

18th

Max Sciandri 1999

20th

Jeremy Hunt 2005


RELATED LINKS

2008 Paris-Roubaix report: Boonen wins

2008 Paris-Roubaix photo gallery