106th Paris-Roubaix - 1.HC
France, April 13, 2008
Complete Live report
Live commentary by Bjorn Haake and Hedwig Kröner
Hello and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage from l'enfer du Nord or Hell of the North. There are 259.5 mostly flat kilometres between the start in Compiègne and the finish in Roubaix. Sounds easy? Don't forget about the 28 cobble sections that will shake, rattle and sometimes roll the riders in northern France. All the racers strong and lucky enough to make it past the city limit sign in Roubaix will be happy to see the final cobble section. It's only 300m and rated with one star or extremely easy. We are looking forward to a great day of racing, likely in the rain, with temperatures between four and nine degrees C.
Want to know about the favourites? Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins compiled a list of likely winners and rated their chances.
The cobbles in the Trouée d'Arenberg, one of the first decision makers in Paris-Roubaix
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
We are ten minutes away from the roll-out. Then there is ten minutes of chatting between the riders, before the Départ réel takes place at 11:00 sharp, local time.
The Forest if Arenberg often brings a preliminary decision on who won't be contesting for the win in the velodrome in Roubaix. Either by getting dropped on the rough, 2.4-kilometre long section or by slipping off the cobbles and into the side of the road. Johan Museeuw broke his kneecap in 1998, but came back to win another one in 2000.
11:06 CEST 3km/256.5km to go
Traditionally, an early break will be allowed some glory on the earlier part of the course. Two riders tried to follow the script right after the start, but were quickly brought back. The peloton wants to relax a little bit before things get serious.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like SNCF, the French railway company, is on strike today. This happen sometimes and would benefit the riders. Now, they are stuck at the mercy of the time table. Should the barriers at a railroad crossing go down, riders are required to wait or risk disqualification. This happened to Leif Hoste, Vladimir Gusev and Peter van Petegem in 2006, who would have occupied places two through four. But riders are also required to wait until the barrier is up again (hey, there could be a train in the other direction, you know!). Some riders didn't really wait that long, but faced no penalty. What is going to happen this year? Here is some speculation about the train schedule.
11:17 CEST 13km/246.5km to go
Mathieu Ladagnous (Française des Jeux) is currently off the front. He attacked at kilometre 10.5. It is his first Paris-Roubaix and he wants to explore the roads by himself, before he will be, in all likelihood, get dropped by his fellow racers.
11:27 CEST 20km/239.5km to go
And that was it for Ladagnous. The peloton let him sniff out the roads a bit in his debut, but now it is back to the boys.
A confident George Hincapie (High Road) looks to finally secure a win in Paris-Roubaix
Photo ©: James Huang
One rider used the 1990's to learn about the race. He finished 31. in his debut (only 48 finishers that year!), then 21., 29., 59., 66. From then on he knew all he had to know and never was outside the top 10 anymore. Twice, he was prevented to start due to illness and a broken wrist (2003, 2007) And once, he didn't finish, due to the steering tube collapsing (2006). Otherwise, always there, always close. George Hincapie was confident when he talked to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown a couple of days before the race.
11:41 CEST 30km/229.5km to go
Ermanno Capelli (Saunier Duval-Scott) has crashed and subsequently abandoned the race. Man, that was way before the first couples. Hopefully, we won't see a crashfest today. We prefer some serious racing, with some nice attacking and winning moves! One move that didn't last, was formed by a few riders at km 28.5. Eight riders were away for a solid kilometre before being reeled back in.
The weather forecast predicted rain and indeed, the road is wet from the rain that hit the area overnight. However, for the moment the sky is clear and the riders only get wet through the sweat. Well, except for now the pace is slow enough that everyone is actually dry.
11:51 CEST 42km/217.5km to go
Peloton groupé, as they say, for the moment. The big question for today is, will CSC let someone else have a piece of the cake? They took home the winner's cobble the last two years, both times with staggering solo attacks. In 2006 Fabian Cancellara time trialled to victory, while last year it was Aussie Stuart O'Grady, who took advantage of the temperatures more likely to be found Down Under as opposed to northern France in April. Or will it finally be Hincapie's day? Besides being strong, you need some luck in this race. An untimely slip off the cobbles, a mechanical that may take a couple of minutes, due to team cars or even the Mavic support motorbikes being stuck – you will never know in Hell.
Andreas Klier (High Road) used the roads in Portugal to get the season started. The rains there will have reminded him of Belgium, where the German resides
Photo ©: João Dias
Another short-lived attack. Northern classics man Andreas Klier (High Road) took off with Christophe Mengin (Française des Jeux). They were joined by Sven Krauss (Gerolsteiner), but now have been gobbled up by the peloton again. The bunch is not in the mood, at least for the moment, to let a break develop.
What would a Paris-Roubaix without the proper equipment? Teams and riders tested, changed and tested their setups again in the days leading up to the Queen of classics. Cyclingnews' James Huang had a closer look at the last minute preparations.
12:14 CEST 60km/199.5km to go
We are just past St. Quentin, still some 40 kilometres away from the first cobbles in Troisville. A bit amazing that no break has formed yet.
One rider's name in the peloton today raises eyebrows. Duclos-Lassalle. It is Hervé, who rides for Cofidis and is the son of Gilbert. Gilbert won the race twice, in 1992 and 1993, at the ripe age of 38 and 39, respectively. Fabian Cancellara doesn't want to wait long and it is amazing how much the 27 year-old has won already. He was 25 when he took Paris-Roubaix. But age is certainly not a disadvantage in this race, where experience is really important.
12:29 CEST 70km/189.5km to go
First rain drops are beginning to annoy the riders. Just in time before the first cobble sections. It will make the pavé slippery and the riding treacherous. And it will provide a spectacle for the fans. At least there won't be any dust to deal with. The dust is bad enough, but gets worse due to the many cars and motorbikes on the course. Not to forget about the helicopter.
Our readership is again from all corners of the world. Francisco follows from Chile, Meredith and Stephen can't go to bed in Australia before knowing the result of the race and Trish stays updated while heading to a mountain bike race Georgia, USA. Mountain bikes may actually be a good idea at some of the sections today. If you want to try out riding Paris-Roubaix this year is the year. The event where everyone can participate happens only every other year. It is held June 8, when the weather is likely to be more cooperative. More info at the VC Roubaix web site.
And we have the first attack of the day that gets more than just a handful of seconds. Matthé Pronk (Cycle Collstrop), Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) and Alexander Serov (Tinkoff Credit Systems) have taken a flyer and are now 1'15 ahead.
12:53 CEST 90km/169.5km to go
Pieter Ghyllebert (Topsport Vlaanderen) is chasing behind the trio and is 45 seconds back. The first cobbles are coming in less than 10 kilometres.
12:57 CEST 92km/167.5km to go
The lead has increased to 1'40 over the peloton and to 1'00 over the lone chaser. Ghyllebert will have a hard time getting up to the three in front.
Alessandro Ballan during his reconnaissance ride on Friday
Photo ©: James Huang
One of the riders shooting for Victory is Italian. Alessandro Ballan won the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year and his performance in Belgium this year showed it was no fluke. While he didn't manage to win, his fourth place showed his strength. He told Cyclingnews'Gregor Brown about his plans to add another big win.
Ghyllebert is still dangling one minute ahead of the field, but already 2'30 behind the leading trio of Pronk, Kuyckx and Serov. This means the peloton is more than three minutes back. The first cobble sections (28 and 27) have been passed without incident.
Sabine Sunderland, wife of CSC's directeur sportif Scott, joins us in the commentary box. Sidelined with a cold she opted to not follow the race today. Good for us! Sabine reports that the rain is something Leif Hoste won't be unhappy with. Before the start the Silence-Lotto rider told the Belgian press he wouldn't mind some rain. "I've never experienced it here; so yeah, let it come." According to Hoste his favourites for the win today are Tom Boonen, Stijn Devolder and Magnus Backstedt."
Don't be thinking, btw, that driving a team car through France at 40km/h is a piece of cake. The race situation has to be kept under control via all the gadgets in the team car (GPS, radio Tour etc). So while the DS has one eye on the road and one eye on the info, he will need the third eye and hand to give out the bottles to thirsty riders. Sometimes, they have to drive very quickly through the bunch to get to one of their riders. The bicyclists are masters on two wheels, while the DS are masters on four. It's a true art.
Slipstream Team Manager Jonathan Vaughters spoke with Gregor Brown before the race, happy he was not racing. "I almost got drafted in once as a rider to ride this race, but no, I never have ridden this race. [laughs - ed.] It is one of those races were there are 50 or 60 guys that are racing, there are another 50 to 60 that don't want to be here and then the rest of the guys are dedicated to the team cause," he noted.
The USA Team will lead with 2004 winner, Magnus Backstedt. "Obviously, Magnus is our leader, but we also have Martyn Maaskant, who was 12th in Flanders, and this is more suited to his abilities. He is a neo-pro; no one really knows who he is. It is the first time he has ridden this, the first time he had ridden Flanders. You know, that to me he is a possibility, if he goes un-watched and gets a little bit of an advantage."
Play the cards with him and Backstedt? "Yes, exactly. I hope for him, because he is an unknown, and you can only be 'unknown' for a little while. You know, he was fourth in Eroica and that showed a lot.
"Then I think Mike Friedman will have a good race too. William Frischkorn, Tyler Farrar... Yeah, he is actually better than you think on roads like this."
Along with its invitation to ASO's Tour de France, Slipstream has been planning for the Paris-Roubaix. "We have done quite a bit of planning for this race, and it has been an objective from the start. Our team is not so suited for Flanders or Liège, but for this race, we do have a team that can do well; we have put a lot of effort into it, so hopefully it will work."
Ghyllebert has finally given up. He is back in the shelter of the peloton, which is now about five minutes behind the leaders. The pace is extremely quick, as the wind from the south west pushes the filed northwards. It is dry again for the moment. Bit not dry enough for Thor Hushovd, who abandoned at the feed zone. He did crash earlier.
13:40 CEST 126.5km/133km to go
The three leaders are on sector 23 in Buat , 1700m of cobbles. The bikes are bouncing like crazy. Is anybody having fun yet?
13:42 CEST 129.5km/130km to go
The leading trio has left the cobbles, but is now going on some farm road. There are big puddles in the left hand bend, but after the turn, which all three manage to do fine, they get rewarded with the main road.
Tom Boonen doesn't seem to be feeling the pressure of being the favourite of many of his fellow riders and the majority of the fans today.
"I'm actually feeling quite relaxed", he told the Belgian television reporters before the start this morning. "I worked long for this, finally the start is here. I don't think that nervousness doesn't solve anything; it shows insecurity, I think; I don't have anything to worry about. If the race evolves in a normal way, I will play my role and then there's luck which plays a factor too."
The peloton is very nervous before the 23rd cobble section. Some riders attack to be able to enter first. But then everyone else has the same idea. And some riders are just better than others one the cobbles. There is a definite difference of level of comfort of some riders.
Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff) has a hard time on the cobbles, he trails behind the peloton. Usually he is on the front in that part of the race!
Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux) said before the race that "my condition is good, but 260km is something else. For five hours I am OK. For six and a half, I am not sure!"
Cofidis rider Nick Nuyens is motivated to show his critics he can do better than finishing 33rd, like in the previous editions of this epic race: "I can do 32 placings better, can't I?" he smiled when interviewed by Sporza.be. His second place in Flanders last week is surely an indication he might be able to do as good a race here today. "Apparently, there are still some people doubting I can do better than that; I know I can, and now again it's up to me to prove just that. I feel good, we'll see. In this race, you always have to wait and see."
The peloton has calmed down after the 23rd sector. Many riders are taking a natural break, while Tom Boonen gets rid of his arm warmers. Fabian Cancellara still has his on (they are black, as opposed to Boonen's blue ones). But the Swiss rider is having a hearty second (or third or fourth?) breakfast. Stijn Devolder rides towards the front, on the right hand side of the peloton and nervously looks around. Surely he won't expect an attack by a favourite now?
13:54 CEST 137.5km/122km to go
The lead of Pronk, Kuyckx and Serov is six minutes now. The peloton is content for the moment. They take a sharp left and enjoy the weather. Much better than forecasted!
The leading trio hits sector 22. Another 1600m of pure hell. Pronk is more comfortable, going ahead of the others. Serov is the last of the three. Pronk must have gotten good lessons from Steffen Wesemann, who finished second here before.
13:59 CEST 142.5km/117km to go
Raul Alarcon Garcia (Saunier Duval) ha snot much of his shorts left. A crash has left most of his lower clothing on the French farm roads. But he is more concerned about his bloody skin rather than the lack of clothing. In the mean time, Stijn Devolder is back in the peloton, after getting some advise from the team car earlier.
George Hincapie is making it back to the peloton, right before they hit the 22nd sector. He must have had a mechanical. But he looks calm and collected, as he passes the backend of the peloton in a hurry. The lead is now down to five and a half minutes, as the leaders hit sector 21. More than two kilometres.
Some riders are trying to use the small dirt section on the right hand side of the road, but then have to switch back to the centre. The Tinkoff riders are going back towards the end of the peloton again on the cobbles. Don't they have cobble roads in Russia? The break is exiting sector 21, while the peloton exits sector 22. They are always one sector ahead.
14:07 CEST 144.5km/115km to go
Number one is riding towards the front. Defending champion Stuart O'Grady. CSC has good chances, with the Aussie as well as Cancellara. And they have support from a rider in great form right now, Kurt-Asle Arvesen. In fact, Cyclingnews' Paul Verkuylen wouldn't put it past the Norwegian to create a surprise.
Nicolas Portal of Caisse has flatted. He gets a wheel from a team-mate and off he is. Portal makes it up the road, on the left. Squeezing between the team cars and the embankment. It looks controlled, but one little mistake by rider or driver and the former is toast. The gap has been reduced to about 5'20.
Another star to shine today is the Gentle Giant Magnus Backstedt. Backstedt is popular in the States, and that was one factor which interested Vaughters when he offered Magnus a contract to ride with the Slipstream team.
"I'm having a good time with this team" the Swedish champion said earlier this week."The atmosphere is super, their approach new and with the strict anti-doping measures I don't have one bit of a problem."
The team's effort in providing Backstedt with the right material for today's race is important too he points out :"They have made a special bike in the States for me to ride Paris-Roubaix. It's not a woman's bicycle, like Museeuw rode in earlier days, but just a normal, stable race bike which can totally handle the shocks. I tested it Thursday and I swear: I have never ridden this comfortably over the cobbles!"
There are shadows on the road. The sun is out. What is happening in Europe? Not quite the warm spell we had last year, but all the arm warmers are rolled down, except for Serov, who still has his yellow ones on. Has the break not made him sweat enough yet?
14:15 CEST 151.5km/108km to go
Pronk is pulling right now in the break, while the pelot0on takes a sharp right hand turn - it's like a U-turn. 170 degrees. The break is passing some kind of marker, but it is not the 100km to go one - there are still 108 left to go.
2006 Tour de France winner Oscar Pereiro was at the start in Compiègne to give support to his Caisse d'Epargne team. However, he noted that the pick for the race win comes not from the Spanish ProTour team, but from Team Rabobank. Pereiro is backing fellow Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha, who showed strong form in the Ronde van Vlaanderen with a third place finish.
"I have never ridden Paris-Roubaix; it is not my type of race. However, I have raced over the cobbles when the Tour de France came though here in 2007. The stage finish was right here," he noted.
In Paris-Roubaix no classements are taken in account when it comes to the position of the team cars. The position is determined by lottery.
Irony has it that the Silence-Lotto team is not happy with this system. The Belgian Team, sponsored by the National Lottery; has objected strongly to the system in the Belgian press.
"The current system is not good at all," Hendrik Redant, one of the team's sportive directors says; "In a race like Paris-Roubaix the position of the team car is extremely important. A rider can lose several minutes before he receives help with a technical problem."
The organizers of Paris-Roubaix wanted to take the results of the teams in Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders in account, which probably would have put Team CSC in first position and Quick-Step in second; but the UCI didn't agree to that.
The "lucky lottery" gave the following result :
1. Saunier Duval
3. Française des Jeux
9. Cycle Collstrop
12. Crédit Agricole
13. Caisse d'Epargne
16. Bouygues Telecom
24. High Road
25. Topsport Vlaanderen
Kurt Asle Arvesen is indeed a very strong rider, with a load of talent and always willing to help the team captains to the max. Kurt crashed out training earlier this week, he had to stop his ride and went back to the hotel. The team's osteopath feared he had a bone in his wrist broken. Fortunately, the X-rays didn't show any fractures and Arvesen has his wrist strapped to make it possible for him to ride today. It will be admirable if he can assist his team fully on what will be for him very painful sessions on the cobbles!
"For me this race is one of the most beautiful races of the year, along with the Tour of Flanders," said young Belgian up-comer Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown.
"Last year, in my first go, I had a really good race here, so I am happy to be here again.
At only 22 years old, Van Avermaet is showing huge potential, notably his second place in the E3 Prijs.
"I am going well, I think I am in my best form now; I was a little bit sick in March. I think I will there in the finale, and we will see just what place it will be.
"Leif Hoste is the real team leader. However, I am just under him in hierarchy and I have the freedom to race my own race."
The road is super wide and there is a crash! Go figure. Thomas Fothen was one of the affected.
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) is riding alongside team-mate Murilo Fischer. They had to swerve to the right, to avoid the crash. Nothing severe, though. Everybody is back up and riding.
The break is on sector 19, with the break reduced to five minutes.
We have a train!!!! And guess what, it stops!!! Well it's not an SNCF train, just a local street car. The peloton zooms by and goes around another roundabout.
14:27 CEST 159.5km/100km to go
A French flag is flying in the wind, as the break rides by. The peloton rides very nervous, with the next sector approaching soon. Some riders try to pass on the side walk on the right. It doesn't look quite as dangerous as in Belgium. No parked cars and the road is a bit wider.
Martin Elmiger (Ag2r-La Mondiale) crashes before a left hand turn and looks a bit shaken. But he is already up again.
Patrick Calcagni will be supporting his Barloworld team-mate, Baden Cooke. "My condition is good, but I believe that this is absolutely not a race for me," he said with honesty to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown. "This is the first time that I have done this race and the other day I went and did some sectors of pavé – it is really a mess out there.
"We have Paolo Longo Borghini and Baden Cooke, who are both going well. I will try to go as soon as possible in an escape, that way I will be there to help them if they have any bad luck with a crash or flat tire. This system is faster than waiting on the team car, even if our car today is car number four [in the caravan]."
The rider from Ticino, Switzerland, recently won his first race in seven years with the GP Pino Cerami. "The win in the Pino Cerami was very important. Often, I am asked what my objectives are for the year and I always say that it is to win a race, no matter which one.
"Cerami is a race that is very important in Belgium. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off me by winning Cerami; I had a big desire to prove something to myself, but also to show to the people that I can still win. It has been seven years since I had won, so it was very beautiful.
"I heard compliments first from my friends, they read the news on the internet, my family and then my uncle in Prague."
The peloton is now ion sector 19. It is very windy, hitting the riders from the left, but now they make a right and it is back to tail wind, the preferred of all winds.
There is CSC, all riding at the front. Backstedt is there as well. The favourites are close to the front. And why? A crash of Yuriy Krivtsov and it causes a split. You don't want to be too far back here .
The peloton, still led by CSC, is strung out. Matti Breschel is leading. There are five CSC riders on the front, including Fabian Cancellara. The split is extreme! There are only 20-25 riders on the front, but the gap is very small, only a few seconds.
Baden Cooke of Barloworld confirmed he is ready to race. "I feel good. We went over the cobbles a few days ago, and I felt as comfortable as I have ever felt on them," he noted to Gregor Brown. "The form has been good, and with a bit of luck, on a day like today, anything is possible."
Nervous? "No. I have 100 kilometres before the first pavé sectors that is enough time to feel nervous – it is a realistically 'easy' start.
"I have a good team, I have Robbie Hunter, who is going better now and I have a few solid guys. It will be a matter of staying in the front and avoiding all the troubles and then the race will sort itself out. The main thing is to be in the front for the Arenberg."
He has some fond memories of the race. "Last year, with Team Unibet, we were left at home and it was a big blow to watch it on television. I am really happy to be here today and I want to but in a big show.
"I remember watching this race on TV when I was racing as an amateur in Italy, and seeing the Mapei guys dominate the race. Ever since then the race has been stuck in my head."
14:34 CEST 164.5km/95km to go
The trio up front is now only 3'40 ahead. CSC's work shows its affects.
Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé asked George Hincapie at the start in Compiègne how nervous he was. "Nervous? Not really, I'll do whatever I can to win... ok, maybe a little nervous," Hincapie laughed and showed a small gap with his fingers.
Another crash! It involves Filippo Pozzato! And Flecha! Crazy race. One team-mate waits for Flecha, but the Spaniard passes him. He is in a hurry to get back.
The break is on sector 18. Arenberg!!!! Pronk is leading.
An untimely crash for Pozzato and Flecha. They both enter the Arenberg way back, at the end of the peloton. The peloton is splintering!
Quinziato rides like a man possessed. He has some 30 metres on the field. Pozzato passes rider after rider. Backstedt rides in the centre, on the cobbles, while the others are on the left, in the dirt. There are now barriers here.
The front part of the peloton is off the cobbles. Van Summeren, Boonen, Quinziato are close to the front.
Pozzato is still struggling over the cobbles, as is Grabsch. Now they are on the paved road as well.
Pozzato has still his left arm warmer, but gotten rid of the right one. He is actually accompanied by Fabio Sabatini, not Ralf Grabsch.
14:47 CEST 172.5km/87km to go
A group of about 20-25 riders has emerged from the Arenberg. We see most of the favourites. Cancellara, Boonen, Devolder. But Flecha and Pozzato may have already lost the race. They are in the peloton behind. Pozzato's shorts are also ripped, on the right hand side. He has shed his left arm warmer. They are about one minute behind the Boonen group.
The Australian Television station SBS is covering Paris-Roubaix this Sunday night. The success of Adelaide boy Stuart O'Grady has certainly contributed to the growing success of the sport of cycling in Australia. The SBS made a great documentary on how O'Grady and his team won the Hell of the North. "Conquering Roubaix" is a fantastic piece of cycling reporting, compiled by Michael Tomalaris and his team; it was broadcast earlier this week and again today.
"I got sent the DVD by Michael earlier last week but kept it as a surprise for the team. We watched the video in the bus while we were on our way to do reconnaissance on the cobbles last Thursday. It was an emotional half hour of TV time for them; they all thought it was fantastic!" Sunderland commented.
14:50 CEST 173.5km/86km to go
Another section of cobbles. The peloton manages to pass another railroad crossing without problems. We are on sector 17. Kuyckx is getting a bottle from a soigneur, who waits on the side of the road.
Current race situation
- Matthé Pronk (Cycle Collstrop), Jan Kuyckx (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) and Alexander Serov (Tinkoff Credit Systems)
- Group 1 of 35 chasers (Boonen, Cancellara) at 1.24
- Group 2 (Pozzato, Flecha) at 2.31
Yannick Talabardon is trying to hang on to the tail end of his group. Pozzato and Flecha are in one group, but it has been reduced a lot. Pozzato lifts his arm and wants some attention form his team car. Quick Step and Silence Lotto are pulling. The gap of Pozzato is still 60 seconds, but the break of the day is now less than a minute away from the group of favourites.
Fabio Baldato is in the group, as is Hincapie. CSC is on the front again, having four riders. Hincapie is there as well.
The trio has 39 seconds. That won't last long anymore.
14:57 CEST 176.5km/83km to go
Leif Hoste is also in the front peloton, as the riders make it past a power plant. The gap between the peloton and the Pozzato group is now more than a minute. High Road has at least three riders in there as well.
The peloton is on sector 16, Hoirnaing. 3.7 kilometres! The longest sector for the day.
Ballan and O'Grady are in the group of favourites as well. They are facing a bit of a cross wind right now. Again, some riders ride smack through the middle, while others opt for the dirt on the right.
15:02 CEST 181.5km/78km to go
Behind the front group, the race has broken apart completely. There are many small groups, but they will have a hard time getting back. Eisel is leading the front runners, in support of Hincapie.
Serov is out of strength, while Kuyckx flats. The break falls apart before being caught!
Servais Knaven is in the Pozzato group. The Italian decided his bike is too slow, and changes his bike. He is in sole pursuit now of 'his' group.
Current race situation
- Matthé Pronk (Cycle Collstrop)
- Group 1 of 35 chasers (Boonen, Cancellara, O'Grady, Hoste, Ballan, Devolder, Hincapie) at 0.25
- Group 2 (Pozzato, Flecha) at 1.25
Pronk is still time trialing ahead of the favourites. But they have him in their sight, as the road makes a few turns. Only about 16 seconds now.
15:08 CEST 184.5km/75km to go
Quick Step is leading the bunch now. Most favourites are still there. Crash in the front group!
Nuyens and Quinziato are back in the Boonen group.
15:10 CEST 185.5km/74km to go
We have no more info on the crash. Pronk is impressive. Wesemann was spotted earlier, but currently have no more info. It also looks like Backstedt didn't make the front group. Bummer.
Phew, with three Quick Steppers on the front, the ride of Pronk is over. They go by like a TGV. Make that four Quick Step riders. Devolder is there, too, with his Belgian champ outfit.
15:14 CEST 188.5km/71km to go
Pozzato is together with two riders, one of Skil Shimano, one of High Road. The peloton hits sector 14 - still 71km to go!
The COMEBACK!!! Pozzato is back in the Flecha group, who in turn is making a return to the front. Only 35 seconds! You can't count on anything in this race.
Flecha is now off the front of that group, with Roger Hammond on his wheel! Good for High Road, who also has former winner Knaven on Pozzato's wheel.
Flecha made it back! The Spaniard has now still all chances. Rabobank, CSC, Quick Step, High Road, Lampre - lots of teams have multiple riders in the front. Silence Lotto also, but they lost one, due to a crash.
The peloton has slowed down and Pozzato can make it back, too. A Barloworld rider has joined him and the other two. We are soon starting from scratch. 16 more seconds for the quartet.
15:22 CEST 193.5km/66km to go
The peloton has set up for now. Bottles are flying. Time to eat. And prepare the final blow, whatever it will be.
Pozzato is close behind the Mavic moto, just 100m behind the peloton.
15:24 CEST 194.5km/65km to go
Et voila, Pozzato makes it back, but the last 20m take him a long time. He looks tired, after the long chase. Knaven could sit on, as he had his captain Hincapie in the group. At least Pozzato's shoes stay reasonably clean today.
Now on to sector 13 - 1400m. Steffen Wesemann is also in the group.
The peloton splits into two, but no worries - no front and back, just left and right, as many try to use the dirt patch on the right hand side again.
We can see the dust of the follow cars. This was not supposed to happen today. Proof on how unpredictable this race is - you can't even count on the weather sometimes.
15:29 CEST 196.5km/63km to go
The peloton has made it back onto the safety of the pavement. Quick Step is in charge of things again. Pronk is still in the group. Chapeau! The peloton is in Orchies, 63km before the finish. The church bells are ringing. It is 15:29. Hmmm. Must have to do with a bike race.
15:31 CEST 199.5km/60km to go
CSC is now trying to get control. They are sending Marcus Ljungqvist up the road. He hits sector 12 ahead of the peloton. 1700m of pain.
High Road is chasing hard, and it's over. High Road keeps the pace high. Boonen pays attention and is close to the front. The Belgian doesn't want to be surprised.
The sector cuts the peloton in three!
Eisel is forcing the pace for High Road. Boonen in third wheel, Cancellara in fifth. Hoste is there, as is Hammond. Hincapie of course.
NOOOOO. A left hand bend with dirt. It is Langeveld who crashes into the ditch, as well as Ljungqvist and a Bouygues Telecom rider.
15:37 CEST 203.5km/56km to go
Van Summeren forces the pace now for Lotto. The race is getting hard. Hincapie does not seem to be in the front anymore.
Hincapie may have crashed, too. He is now trying to make it back and gets really irritated with Pronk for not pulling. Can't blame the guy who spent a lot of time in the break, though.
As Hincapie, Pronk and a Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner rider try to make it back. the crashed Ljungqvist flies by like he has a motor.
15:41 CEST 205.5km/54km to go
Hincapie has dropped the other two and makes it into the line of cars. He should be getting back now, but as the riders hit sector 11 (1200m), Van Summeren accelerates.
Van Summeren has about 75m. There is a reaction of two riders. It may be Cancellara.
Pichot crashes on a straight section of cobbles! He takes out Kevin Neirynck (Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner) as well, but both get up quickly.
15:46 CEST 208.5km/51km to go
Hincapie is now 38 seconds behind. Another year of bad luck settles in for big George. Boonen, Devolder, Cancellara have caught up with Van Summeren. A few others are there, too. A Slipstream rider is there as well! It is Martyn Maaskant.
Pichot looks a little dirty, but he is back in the group that also contains Hincapie. His left part of the jersey is completely covered in mud.
The front group consists of eight riders: Stijn Devolder and Tom Boonen (Quick Step), Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Martyn Maaskant (Slipstream Chipotle - H30), Johan Van Summeren and Leif Hoste (Silence-Lotto)
Ahem, make that seven, as Devolder takes a flyer. Remember the Ronde van Vlaanderen? Maybe that has given him enough confidence! He looks good on the tenth sector.
Marcus Ljungqvist got hit by Aurélien Clerc while he was trying to get back on his bike after the crash. The damage seems reasonable and the favourites came through without further carnage.
Hammond is now asking assistance from the race doctor while Hincapie seemed to have a technical problem and was making wild gestures calling for his team car.
A ton of spectators are out on this cobble section. They cheer and like what they see - racing at its finest. Number ten is done. Check.
O'Grady attacks!!!! He was at the back and passed everyone on the left, getting some momentum. Great stuff!
The road was slightly uphill. The Aussie in pursuit of the Belgian! He comes up quickly! Wow.
50 more metres for O'Grady. Devolder turns around.
15:56 CEST 217.5km/42km to go
Van Summeren is pulling. O'Grady has joined Devolder, who turns around and seems to ask the Aussie for a pull. But first some recovery for O'Grady. They have 18 seconds. Quick Step and CSC know a thing or two about card games. They got a good hand now. Sector 9 is starting. 700m.
The peloton is 1'14 behind the leading duo.
O'Grady is pulling. The chasers can see the duo, but for now the gap stays the same, 16 seconds.
Current race situation
- Stijn Devolder (Quickstep), Stuart O'Grady (CSC)
- 6 riders: Boonen (Quickstep), Cancellara(CSC), Ballan (Lampre), Maaskant (Slipstream), Van Summeren and Hoste (Lotto) at 0.18
- Peloton of approx. 22 riders (Flecha, Pozzato, Wesemann, Nuyens, Quinziato) at 1.14
- Group of 4 riders incl. Hincapie at ?
Will O'Grady be the first since Duclos-Lassalle to score back to back wins? Or will Devolder make a rare Flanders-Roubaix double? Or will it come back together. Lotto hopes so, and works hard. 13 seconds now.
Devolder leads O'Grady into sector 8, Pont-Thibaut. 1.4km. O'Grady talked in French before the race. He wants to be "in a good position and the we'll see" But Plan A according to him is Cancellara, who is in great shape.
At the start in Compiègne Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé talked with Quick Step director sportif Dirk Demol. The Belgian former pro has been working together with Devolder since the latter was a junior, and is now again in the same team; both Belgians came over from the Discovery Channel Team this year. Clearly Demol was the perfect man to talk about the latest winner of the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "If you win the Ronde van Vlaanderen and you come to the start of Paris-Roubaix, of course you dream about the double. It was a super performance from Devolder last week, and after the Ronde he enjoyed his victory and greeted his fans in the cafe, but he was in bed by 2230. That shows he is totally focused. It's really special to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen and it's as special to win Paris-Roubaix, but winning both of them is extremely special. He has the form to do it and he is still super motivated. I think he can go very, very far," Demol predicted Devolder would certainly be able to reach out for the 'double'.
Herman Frison, directeur sportif from Silence-Lotto told Cyclingnews that they were disappointed by the lottery for the team cars. "We are the victim of the battle between the UCI & ASO. I have nothing against Continental Teams - they need to exist - but for us there is so much at stake in this races, while for them it's already great to just be here," the Belgian said. The team had found a solution though. "We've set-up a network with guys who are all over the course with wheels and bikes. The riders know where they are, so that could help if there's bad luck. Of course, if you're 100 metres past such a guy, then it's over anyway."
Well, it's over for the duo on the front. Lotto's work paid off, but have they used too much energy?
Hoste was forced to do some of the work, trying to chase down the leaders. Of course neither Boonen nor Cancellara were willing to lend him a hand. Was Hoste using the precious energy he might need to secure his chances of winning in the end? Ballan was riding more energy-efficiently than the Belgian.
Current race situation
- Stijn Devolder (Quickstep), Stuart O'Grady (CSC)
- 6 riders: Boonen (Quickstep), Cancellara(CSC), Ballan (Lampre), Maaskant (Slipstream), Vansummeren and Hoste (Lotto) at 0.18
- Peloton of approx. 22 riders (Flecha, Pozzato, Wesemann, Nuyens, Quinziato) at 1.14
- Group of 4 riders incl. Hincapie at ?
Van Summeren has paid for his efforts. He is gone and won't be able to help. Now it's Cancellara who goes. Amazing. Boonen has to get out of the saddle to get into the slipstream of the Swiss. Devolder and O'Grady are having a hard time.
It is now Ballan, Cancellara and Boonen! They are hitting sector 7.
This could be the decisive break, as they ride over the cobbles, past a windmill. The wind has the windmill going.
16:10 CEST 226.5km/33km to go
It is eight seconds between the trio up front and the four chasers. O'Grady is leading them over the cobbles, but he will make sure nobody will get back.
The lead climbs to 15 seconds as sector 7 is done. It is now Maaskant who has to pull. O'Grady and Devolder will sit on, while the Dutchman and Hoste will have to do all the pulling.
Maaskant is only 24! He is a Dutch rider born in Zuidland. He won the Ronde van Drenthe last year, which is 'the' cobbled classic of the Netherlands. With his Slipstream team, he is giving out his business card to the big stars in this exciting Paris-Roubaix.
The trip Ballan, Boonen, Cancellara shares pulls equally, while the Lampre car pulls up. This is amazing! Three of the absolute favourites united in a break royale.
Will Cancellara be able to ride away as impressively as he did two years ago?? He looks impressive and doesn't underestimate the confidence an earlier classics win in Milan-San Remo might give him right now.
What a race this is! The big guns are firing and it is again a beautiful day of racing in the North of France. No sign of the predicted rain.
Hoste is getting upset by the lack of help from his competitors. What is he expecting; for O'Grady to ride???
16:16 CEST 231.5km/28km to go
With 28 kilometres to go, the gap is up to 44 seconds. It seems like we have the podium secured for today. But of course you'll never know in Hell.
A Spanish flag is out, but there is no sign of Flecha. Of course, Flecha was involved in a crash earlier and had to chase since before the Arenberg.
The leaders are on sector six, which is a double blow. You think you are done, but then you have to do another 500m.
O'Grady and Devolder are trying to shake Maaskant and Hoste.
16:20 CEST 234.5km/25km to go
Hoste makes it back up and Maaskant is close behind. They are still on the cobbles. The gap is over 50 seconds now.
The chasers are done with the pavé for now. They pass the 25km to go sign.
Correction, the leaders are now hitting section six. Let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Devolder is pulling away from O'Grady, but the Aussie fights back on the cobbles.
16:23 CEST 236.5km/23km to go
The acceleration of the two has left Hoste and Maaskant in the dust - literally. Will they make it back up to their captains and help out? But the gap is now 1'08, with less than 23km to go.
Both groups (Devolder-O'Grady and Maaskant-Hoste) are playing a bit of games, which looks funny. They are separated by about 50m.
In the front Boonen takes a pull and gaps the other two a bit. Is that some kind of psycho game going on already? All three look really good.
The attack launched by Tom Boonen did kill Hoste who is now suffering behind.
But Boonen still has to deal with Ballan and Cancellara. Ballan is completely in love with the cobbles he says; the Italian rider even had his driveway paved by cobbles he imported from Flanders!
16:28 CEST 239.5km/20km to go
The leaders hit sector 5, Camphin. 1.8km of fun. Ballan predicted before the race his greatest rivals: Boonen, Cancellara and Flecha. Not bad.
The chasers are at 1'20. The trio in front rides along the left hand edge of the road, where they can avoid the cobbles and ride in the dirt. How did the flags of Flanders get here???? There are tons of them. What happened to the tricolore?
Boonen, Ballan, Cancellara, as they ride over the pavé. Now Boonen drops back, he doesn't want to pull the others all the time.
The four behind are back together, riding over the rough sector 5. O'Grady is pulling Devolder, Hoste and Maaskant. They are 1'23 behind and be assured that O'Grady won't be going hard right now.
Carrefour de l'arbre!!!! The intersection by the tree, which often was decisive. Attack by Spartacus Cancellara!!!
16:35 CEST 244.5km/15km to go
Cancellara can't separate himself from the other two. Boonen takes over, while Ballan hangs back. We have counted the Lion of Flanders flags. Actually, we stopped at 2,000. It is unbelievable here!
Cancellara takes back over, as they are done with the carrefour. No decision here today.
Hoste is now back to pulling the four-man group behind. 2100m of pure hell in Hell. The spectators are amazing. It is loud here.
Former Belgian Champion and winner of a Tour de France stage Serge Baguet is out on the parcours, enjoying the race in comfort at one of the VIP-area's alongside the cobbled roads.
He just witnessed the race go past sector 6, at Camphin-en-Pevele, and gives us his opinion on how the race is unfolding:
"This has been an incredible and exciting race so far! Boonen, Cancellara and Ballan all three look impressive and strong. Both Boonen and Cancellara have the hands comfortable on top of the handlebars; according to me, one of these two is going to win."
Ballan looks to be in trouble. He has a small gap, but fights back.
Both Cancellara and Boonen check on the Italian and see if he is faking.
Cancellara doesn't think so and attacks!
But both B.'s fight back easily. Let the fun begin. Ballan does not take a pull anymore.
Ok, Ballan is taking a pull now, too, as the three ride at an incredible speed and take a quick right left, riding centimetres from the hay bales that are supposed to protect them in a case of a crash.
16:41 CEST 248.5km/11km to go
Cancellara takes over before a right-hand turn. What will his tactic be? Ballan, too, needs to attack. In a sprint Boonen will have the best chances!
Over two minutes now for the four-man group behind. Ballan digs deep. He pulls, but looks tired. Of course, who wouldn't be after 250km?
The Lampre car pulls up on Ballan's left and the DS shouts some instructions. Possibly telling him to not pull too long. The Italian promptly drops back.
Now it's the Quick Step car that pulls up, while Boonen sits in third. What will they tell Boonen that he doesn't already know? Trying to arrive with the other two in the velodrome seems the best bet.
Section 2 is starting and Ballan leads the other two!
16:46 CEST 251.5km/8km to go
Serge Baguet is certain: "Boonen wins this one!"
Cancellara is now in third wheel, behind Boonen. Ballan does all the pulling over the pavé. But here it is not so rough, as there are patches of asphalt, which the riders use to stop the shaking.
16:48 CEST 252.5km/7km to go
They are done with this section. Boonen celebrates by taking a drink. Ballan follows suit. Cancellara looks determined.
16:49 CEST 254km/5.5km to go
The break on the left, the Lampre car passes on the right and the DS shouts some more instructions. The three riders take a right - good thing the Lampre car has pulled back. Cancellara now gets tips from Scott Sunderland.
The break is already three minutes ahead of the next group!
Boonen adjusts his radio, what are they telling him? The three take a right hand turn, as the sun is still out. It looks like they will head to the velodrome together.
16:51 CEST 255.5km/4km to go
Everybody is pulling evenly. The last cobble section is coming up, but it's almost a joke compared to the others. And only 300m.
Ballan checks on the others, and they are pulling through. Both Boonen and Ballan. There are no funny games going on. The tension builds!
16:53 CEST 257.5km/2km to go
Cancellara is out of the saddle to relax, as he drifts back after his pull. They are still working together like they have only a slim lead. They pass the 2km to go sign.
Many spectators are even waiting outside the velodrome.
16:55 CEST 258.5km/1km to go
Last cobble sector! 300m.
16:55 CEST 258.5km/1km to go
Last cobble sector! 300m.
Ballan leads Cancellara into the velodrome
Bell lap! Still Ballan ahead of Cancellara with Boonen in third.
Ballan starts the sprint on the straight. Can he hold?
Boonen comes out of the slipstream - can Cancellara go with him?
Boonen comes down from the embankment and puts several metres between himself and the other two!
Boonen wins it. He punches the air, as he crosses the line!
The average speed was over 43km/h, helped by a tailwind.
Cancellara was spent, a bit zig-zagging, but held off Ballan.
Maaskant dropped the others and finishes fourth.
Well, another Paris-Roubaix. Tom Boonen had all the pressure and the Belgian delivered. His sprint was very impressive and neither Ballan nor Cancellara had an answer. Maaskant finished an outstanding fourth and last year;s winner O'Grady came in in fifth.
George "once again unlucky" Hincapie ended the race in ninth.
And here is Tom Boonen on the podium, lifting the coveted cobble stone. Tons of air balloons are let loose What a day it has been.
Special thanks to Sabine Sunderland who joined us in the commentary box and got us some unique views inside the peloton. We hope she will be all healthy again soon, and of course we hope she can pitch in again in the future. While it didn't work out for CSC today, it has shown what a strong team it is and Fabian Cancellara, who is all smiles right now on the podium, has shown that he is always a force to be reckoned with.
Ballan and Boonen embrace on the podium. These three nice guys must like each other. There was no playing around, even with a three-minute lead. They went full gas into the velodrome, no track stand games or anything.
Boonen says that "today we went very fast," so you'll never know in a sprint. "But I think I was the freshest." The Belgian can't understand the critics. "I have already won six races this year. I am very happy to be on the [top spot of the] podium." Amid some laughter of both riders, French TV showed Boonen pushing Cancellara two kilometres before the line. Boonen smiled "Yeah, I wanted to enter the velodrome in last position.
Cancellara said that "I tried to attack, but in the end I told myself 'We will have to fight it out in the velodrome'. Boonen merits the win."
The Swiss rider commented on trying to win it all that "There is a lot of pressure on me and the team."
With the image of a smiling Cancellara and Boonen, standing side-by-side for an interview from the velodrome in Roubaix, Cyclingnews ends the live coverage for today. Thanks for tuning in and don't forget, we are a long way from the end of the Spring Classics. Coverage will continue next Wednesday, when we report from the Scheldeprijs.
Until then, stay healthy! Au revoir.