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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

First Edition Cycling News for April 9, 2006

Edited by Jeff Jones, with assistance from Sabine Sunderland

"No more seconds or thirds" for Hincapie

By Hedwig Kröner in Compiègne

George Hincapie (Discovery) on the podium in 2005
Photo ©: Jon Devich
Click for larger image

Discovery Channel's George Hincapie is positive he can finally earn the fruit of his Classics' campaign in Paris-Roubaix, a race the American has been trying to win for many years. After riding a solid Tour of Flanders one week ago, Hincapie's form is undoubtedly excellent. "I feel good," he said on Saturday afternoon. "On Wednesday, I wasn't quite recovered from a hard Tour of Flanders, so I was a bit tired there. I was still able to be in front though. Thursday, I took a day off and on Friday, I felt better than ever, even better than before the Tour of Flanders. So, I'm looking forward to tomorrow!"

Asked if the stage victory in last year's Tour de France had influenced his riding style, Hincapie replied, "I have a lot more confidence in my ability [since then]. I know that, without any bad luck, I will be there amongst the leaders. I'll take advantage of my experience and race for the win. Second and third won't be placings for me anymore."

About his main rival, Tom Boonen, Hincapie added, "Tom's obviously riding great, and he's the guy to beat. For Paris-Roubaix, you need to ride consistent to get to the stadium, so hopefully I'll have great legs so I can beat him. Besides, I'm going into the race knowing that I can beat him, but he's not the only guy to worry about. There will be lots of others tomorrow..."

Arenberg: for better or worse

By Hedwig Kröner and Brecht Decaluwé in Compiègne

On the eve of the race, Cyclingnews has collected a few rider comments about the state of the most topical pavé sector of Paris-Roubaix: La Trouée d'Arenberg, the Arenberg forest - a mythical piece of road in France, not only known for its terrible consequences on the racers' limbs and hands, but also for the thousands of workmen who used to take it to factory work in the first part of last century.

In any case, the Arenberg trench was taken out of the 'Enfer du Nord' last year, but put back in the parcours this year after a concerted effort to clean and restore the cobbles. But what should have ended the polemics about the inclusion of the 2400 metres-long pavé road in the race, seems to lead to even more opinions, as the state of the cobbles are perceived differently depending on who is asked.

Discovery rider George Hincapie, certainly one of the more experienced Paris-Roubaix contenders, found the Arenberg forest unchanged. "It's not any better than I remember; it's pretty rough!" he said. "My fingers still hurt from riding it yesterday, so I can imagine what they'll feel like after tomorrow's race..."

Tom Boonen's team mate Kevin Hulsmans, rated by the world champion himself as his main rival for the win in Paris-Roubaix, also couldn't tell the difference: "The road hasn't improved compared to its previous condition," he said.

Gerolsteiner Classics rider Frank Hoj agreed. "It was the same as before when I rode it, it hasn't changed," he said after he had reconnoitered the course.

Belgian Leif Hoste (Discovery) didn't care about the famous pavé section in Northern France. "The cobbles are certainly not feeling better than they did in the past," he said dryly.

Davitamon's Peter Van Petegem is a past winner so he knows all about this cobbled road, but said, "For me, it's nothing new. It would be new if they would've asphalted the road. The name of the road itself makes everybody nervous, though."

The Arenberg forest - La Fôret de Raismes-Saint-Amand-Wallers to give it its full name - is also famous for its good bird watching, Cyclingnews was told. The road itself is officially known as the Drève des Boules d'Hérin and is jreferred to as the Trouée d'Arenberg only in connection with the 110 year-old bike race.

Big Norwegian Thor Hushovd actually thought that the work performed by local volunteers of the "Friends of Paris-Roubaix" had been counter-productive. "I think they just made it worse," The Crédit Agricole rider said. "They took away all the earth and grass that was between the stones and replaced it with sand - but they didn't put enough of it. So the space between the cobbles is quite big!"

Slovenian Uros Murn (Phonak) doesn't have good memories about his previous passage at the Arenberg forest, two years ago: "I fell at that passage, so the race was over for me," he said. "There is a big part of luck involved with a good performance in Paris-Roubaix. You need to be up front all the time and that's hard."

Experienced Dutchman Aart Vierhouten (Skil-Shimano) isn't scared of the trench, and skipped the traditional reconnaissance. "Why should I do the reconnaissance ride if you did this race nine times?," he asked. "You've got to enter the zone in the Top 20. If not, you'll lose too much energy trying to come back."

Systems go for Wesemann

At T-Mobile, the rider associated most with Paris-Roubaix has finally recovered: Steffen Wesemann is ready to race again this week-end, although the 2004 winner of the Tour of Flanders has been ill with a flu these past few weeks. "I'm healthy again, but the question now is: what am I able to do in the race?," a still confident Wesemann told Cyclingnews on Saturday. "I can't say that yet. I took a four-day break, after the flu that started in Milano-Sanremo came back. So now, I'm healthy, but I don't know what I can achieve."

So what were his hopes for this year's Paris-Roubaix? "Of course, I hope to win, otherwise I wouldn't be at the start," was Wesemann's dry response. "But it would be big-headed to think it possible. Ideally, I aim for a top ten placing. That would be realistic."

Asked if he counted on his teammate Andreas Klier to achieve his goal, Wesemann said, "It doesn't matter who in our team gets there, but it will probably be one of us two."

Klier, after his second placing in Gent-Wevelgem this week, had reason to be confident. "I feel good, the legs are still good and the head is getting better, too," he said. "We'll see. I'm not a top favourite, and I honestly haven't made very positive experiences here yet. With a little bit of luck, why not? If you end up with the best in front, you will probably lose if you're not a specialist, but there have been surprises here before. I have the good legs as a basis for it."

About his teammate, Klier said, "Even if 'Wese' was ill, he has the experience of this race over the years, and it makes a great difference when you're made for this race. Even if he's only at 90 percent, he'll still be better here than me on the cobbles. On the other hand, there are also 200 km of tarmac on the course. So I feel confident - let's just see what happens," he added.

"We rode about 100 km of the course yesterday, from the Arenberg forest until the third last cobble section. It not like it's really safe to ride - I hurt myself badly before at this race, so I'll watch out, " Klier concluded.

Enrico Franzoi believes in his technique

By Jean-François Quénet in Compiègne

Cyclo-cross champ Enrico Franzoi
Photo ©: JF Quenet
(Click for larger image)

Enrico Franzoi is one of the most popular foreign riders when the time comes for racing in the North. "Riding cyclo-cross here in north of France and Belgium makes me well known at a media level, it's a good thing", he reckons. It's amazing how he's well appreciated in Flanders particularly. Race commentators are used to yelling: "Enricoooooooo Franzoi!", in a Brazilian style for celebrating the goals in soccer.

Franzoi, 23, was the U23 world champion for cyclo-cross but he's a good rider on the road as well. He got noticed in his first attempt in Paris-Roubaix last year. "I finished 30th but I crashed twice in the finale," he remembers. "This year, both Alessandro [Ballan] and myself are protected riders at Lampre-Fondital. Personally, I target a top 15. I've improved significantly. I've prepared for Paris-Roubaix riding Paris-Nice, then the Three Days of De Panne where I was 9th. Last week at the Tour of Flanders, I had good legs, I assisted Alessandro as much as I could. Tomorrow, I'll be able to race for myself."

He knows that a wet road could help him. "Doing cyclo-cross and riding on the cobblestones isn't exactly the same thing," he explains. "But the technique from the cyclo-cross helps reduce the vibrations on the stones." The Venetian obviously loves this type of cycling. His place is in the front of a race like Paris-Roubaix.

Cancellara: I've never been better ahead of a Paris-Roubaix

Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Photo ©: Saën Sunderland
(Click for larger image)

Even though he is only 25 years old, Team CSC's Fabian Cancellara already has a lot of experience with Paris-Roubaix - the race the riders either love or hate. The big Swiss talent belongs to the first group and he is aiming for a big result in this year's edition of the Hell of the North.

"I might as well come clean and say: I've never been better ahead of a Paris-Roubaix, and I believe my results this year show that. I've built up my form, and now one of the big goals of the season is right in front of me. This race suits me perfectly, and I've done everything I can to be ready," said Cancellara on about Sunday's race.

Cancellara knows the route down to the smallest detail, and on Thursday he was out inspecting the condition of the pavés on the last 100 kilometers along with the rest of the Team CSC crew.

"Paris-Roubaix is so special and so unlike any other race - it resembles a very long and difficult time trail a bit! And then again maybe not, because you so need a good team behind you, and I really feel we have a lot to offer in that department, both in terms of experience and in terms of riders who are willing to sacrifice themselves. At the same time we have the perfect team for this race and that could turn out to be vital. Of course you also need luck in Paris-Roubaix, because there are so many crashes and punctures that can stop you in your tracks. We have done everything possible to minimize these risks, and the rest is up to the riders. One thing is for sure: It will be tough, it's gonna hurt - and strange as it may sound - I'm really looking forward to it."


Gerolsteiner on three fronts

By Hedwig Kröner in Compiègne

German squad Gerolsteiner, which has been on a roll lately with Stefan Schumacher winning the Circuit de Sarthe and scored some good placings at other races, too, has a few riders to build on at this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.

David Kopp, who finished an excellent second at this week's Gent-Wevelgem, told Cyclingnews at the team's presentation on the eve of the race that he will be one of the contenders at Gerolsteiner. "I'm in good form, so I think I will be one of the leaders - because we do have two or three riders who have been preparing well for this race and who are also in form," Kopp said. "We will certainly not race for a single leader." Nevertheless, the young German's experience in the 'Hell of the North' is limited, as he explained.

"I have ridden Paris-Roubaix only once, in 2003, and I abandoned at the second feed zone as I had seven punctures up to then," Kopp explained. "I hope that won't happen again this time! But you can't compare the two races [Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix - ed.]. On Wednesday, there were only two flat cobbled sections, and tomorrow there will be more than 50 kilometres of pavé! That's totally different, and the race is 60 km longer, too. It will be much harder."

Nevertheless, Kopp is happy to be there and motivated for a good result. "I'm in good shape and looking forward to the race," he added. "I just hope that everything will be fine; that we'll be lucky in terms of mechanicals and, above all, that we won't have any bad crashes. That's still the main thing."

His teammate Heinrich Haussler, who won two stages at this year's Vuelta a Murcia, should also be a man to watch in the Queen of the Classics. The German-Australian, who moved to Germany in his teens and speaks fluent German, finished in 25th position last year when he first participated in the race. Moreover, he is eager to make amends for a messed-up Tour of Flanders last week...

"I wanted to race really well in Flanders, and had prepared all winter for it," Haussler said. "I was too far in the back of the race when the split occurred at the Koppenberg. There was no chance to get back to that 40-some front group - except if your name happens to be Tom Boonen! Anyway, I was very disappointed, and my morale just disappeared. I just wanted to forget everything about it. Now, I'm focused on Paris-Roubaix, which is my second season goal after Flanders. I don't put too much pressure on myself, but I really do want to race well tomorrow. To prove it to myself."

Paris-Roubaix has put a spell on Haussler ever since he first raced it last year. "I like the length of the race - when I finished last year I was absolutely knackered; it was so painful. But then and there I knew that I wanted to be there again next year, and I hope to be able to win the race some time. For tomorrow, I aim for top ten - but I'll also need some luck for that."

Another, more experienced rider at Gerolsteiner is of course Frank Hoj. But the tall Dane complained about his form, and knows that he will not be a sole leader tomorrow. "My level of fitness has been evolving too slowly," Hoj said. "Because of that, I'm not the only team leader as Haussler and Kopp are also in form. In the Tour of Flanders, I wasn't riding well; probably because I was too nervous. Of course, I hope to be there tomorrow - it's my job to do so."

More prognostics for Paris-Roubaix

Belgian paper Het Laatse Nieuws queried past winners of Paris-Roubaix to ascertain their thoughts for the 104th edition.

Andrei Tchmil won in 1994, and his opionion is, "I'm certain that Boonen will win. If another rider takes the victory than it will be because Boonen had a technical problem. He is not twice but ten times stronger than all the others nowadays."

Tchmil's podium: 1. Tom Boonen, 2. Thor Hushovd, 3. Leif Hoste

Franco Ballerini, winner of the 1995 and 1998 editions of the Hell of the North said, "Quick.Step will be the team to beat again. They have Boonen of course. He is the most logical candidate, but they shouldn't forget about Pozzato. He is in marvellous form. Other teams have got individual talents: Hushovd, Hincapie, Hoste, Weseman maybe."

Ballerini's podium: 1. Tom Boonen, 2. George Hincapie, 3. Thor Hushovd

Jean-Marie Wampers, the 1998 winner, said, "With the same legs as he had in the Ronde, no-one will beat Tom. His most important competition will be Tom Boonen himself and his bike. The finale will be coloured blue and white, so also with Discovery and Hincapie; he's the only one who can beat Boonen. George is made for Paris-Roubaix."

Wampers' podium: 1. Tom Boonen, 2. George Hincapie, 3. Filippo Pozzato

Weather for Paris-Roubaix

More than any other race, the weather in Paris-Roubaix can have an important effect on the outcome. According to Météo France, it should be dry in the morning, with sun breaking through the clouds now and again, then heavy cloud cover and showers in afternoon. The maximum temperature will be 11° Celsuis, with winds from the WNW at between 10-20 km/h, blowing across the riders all the way to Roubaix.

Sastre shows form

Team CSC's Carlos Sastre finished seventh in Saturday's final stage of the Tour of Basque Country. The tough 24 km time trial was won by José Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), who also took the overall victory in the race.

"After Fränk Schleck's exit due to his crash, we no longer had the possibility of making a good overall result," said DS Kim Andersen on "Still we tried to put our mark on the race. Jens Voigt was beaten by half a wheel yesterday and today Sastre did a very good time trial, so we can definitely take something positive with us for the upcoming classics in the Ardennes."

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