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Special Edition Cycling News, April 13, 2008

Edited by Sue George

O'Grady: "We will do our best"

By Gregor Brown in Compiègne

2007 Paris-Roubaix winner O'Grady alone
Photo ©: Sirotti
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Team CSC is lining up as favourite number one for the 2008 Paris-Roubaix. In its ranks are the past two winners, Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Australian Stuart O'Grady, and, although 2007's winner, O'Grady, is not in top form, he will pose a threat and he is ready to give his all in the team's effort.

When the 34 year-old won last year it was the result of team-work and the benefit of having 2006's winner in the team's ranks. O'Grady fired and won solo in Roubaix's Velodrome – the traditional finish of the race that features over 50 kilometres of cobbled roads – and it was 12 months after Cancellara had accomplished the same, albeit a little further out.

If 2008's early season is anything to go by, the Denmark-based team is ready to dominate the French race once again. Cancellara has racked up wins thanks to his sheer power in Eroica, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milano-Sanremo, but, perhaps equally as impressive, was the team's domination in the E3 Prijs. It played every card in its hand to perfection when it won with Norwegian Kurt-Asle Arvesen

The team's director sportif for E3 Prijs and this Sunday's Monument, Scott Sunderland, confirmed the good early season and the team's readiness. "It has been a very good last few months, and very rewarding up until this point, and we hope the same for tomorrow," said the Australian on Saturday in Compiègne."

He confirmed the two champions' roles and explained some of the team's tactics. "We have two favourites, the two winners from the last two years. Tomorrow, we will go into the race with a lot of confidence."

The Forest of "Arenberg [kilometre 163.5 and sector 18 of 28 - ed.] is the turning point; we will assess the situation there. I would like to arrive at Mons-en-Pévèle [kilometre 210.5 - ed.] with eight riders, but that would be a dream scenario.

"Ideally we will have Stuart there in the finale, the more riders you have there in the finale the better. You've seen the ideal scenario from Mapei a few years ago, where you come with three or four team riders out of the group of 20 into the finale."

O'Grady has almost fully recovered from his devastating crash last July in the Tour de France, but can't say he will be the out-and-out favourite for Sunday, preferring to give that title to his team-mate.

"I think we are pretty much going to take the same tactic that we did last year," the only Australian to win Roubaix confirmed to Cyclingnews. (For more on O'Grady's 2007 win read 'Nobody wanted it more than me'.) "We have the same mentality; Fabian is the leader like last year, and that is that. However, the strength in this team is the way we adapt and the way we are able to change tactics according to the conditions. Last year, we adapted quickly and we worked it out.

A picture-perfect moment
Photo ©: Luc Claessen
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"Sunday, if it is going to be wet then it will be a completely different race, it will be another sport," he continued. "So we will have a plan A, B and C, and be ready to do whatever is possible."

Surely, O'Grady had his morale bolstered with his performance in Gent-Wevelgem. He and Kurt-Asle Arvesen formed part of a five-man last-minute escape that put Team Rabobank on its heels. Although the move did not work out and Oscar Freire won, he got what he needed – strengthened morale.

"I needed to do a good ride on Wednesday for my confidence and my morale," continued O'Grady. "I have not been quite up to the standards as I was last year, due to missing out of half of last year's season. Wednesday was probably the best I felt since my crash in the Tour. I may not be 100 percent like last year, but I am not far off either."

"I don't think they were dominating, I think they rode a good race," he stated of Rabobank's ride in Gent-Wevelgem. "However, we rode a good race as well. The reason they were out on the front is that we were at the front as well [with two men in the escape]. They are a very strong team, but they are going to have all their cards on [Juan Antonio] Flecha [for Paris-Roubaix]."

He is not worried about the risks involved in the "Hell of the North" and looks forward to another CSC win in Roubaix. "It is all or nothing. If you crash and break something, it is the last race for a month and there is plenty of time to recover. There is no holding back tomorrow, we are there to win and we are going to take risks.

"If the weather is bad, it is not about if you are going to crash it is about when and how bad is it going to be. ... Obviously, I prefer hot and dry, but tomorrow is going to be cold and wet... It will make for good TV," said O'Grady.

"We have had some great wins and a fantastic last couple of Paris-Roubaixs. Tomorrow, we will do our best."

Pozzato will take Roubaix win however it comes

2006 Milano-Sanremo champion ready for big 2008 win

By Gregor Brown in Compiègne

Italian Filippo Pozzato
Photo ©: James Huang
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Italian Filippo Pozzato is ready for the big 2008 win. After making his moves in Milano-Sanremo and this week's Gent-Wevelgem, the 2006 Milano-Sanremo champion is ready to take on Paris-Roubaix.

"We road for two hours today," confirmed the 26 year-old of Liquigas to Cyclingnews on Saturday afternoon, the day before France's big one-day race. "Yesterday we did 100 kilometres, three and a half hours."

Even if he was let down with his performance in Ronde van Vlaanderen [sixth - ed.], "Pippo" bounced back for Belgian's mid-week Gent-Wevelgem. He joined a move with Belgian's Philippe Gilbert that lasted for most of the race's finale before being snuffed out by Team Rabobank.

"Flanders was a little bit of a let down for me," he confirmed of last weekend's Classic. "I thought I would have gone stronger, but at Gent-Wevelgem I saw that my legs are still good. Gent-Wevelgem reassured me; I knew I could not lose my condition from one day to the next. So, the Flander's episode was a little distorted and I hope that tomorrow will be a good day."

Pozzato hope that the strong men rise to the top to fight out the victory in the finale of the 259.5-kilometre race from Compiègne to Roubaix. "If I could choose, it is important that there is a good natural selection so that in the finale those who are up front are those how really have the legs. So, I hope to leave Arenberg Forest [kilometre 163.5 - ed.] well and then let the naturally section happen."

He realised that the weather is less predictable. "What is there is there, it is not that we can decide how the weather should be," responded Pozzato. The Liquigas captain would prefer sunny weather, even if he has shown well in harsh conditions, like the 2007 Het Volk. "It is important that the legs are good and there is a small bit of luck.

"It is important to win and it does not matter how. Tom Boonen is dangerous in the sprint for example, but in a race like Roubaix it is possible that even Boonen can arrive tired [for the sprint]," Pozzato referred to the race tactics.

"I am usually pretty fast, but in Flanders I arrived with [Lampre's Alessandro] Ballan and he was able to beat me in the sprint. The most important thing is to be there in the finale, and then we will se how to fight for the win."

Pozzato has adapted to the Belgian roads, he is cheered on by French fans and those imported from Italy.

"I have remained in Belgium and kept training on these roads. ... I have some fans that have come up to watch the race; I hope that they have some fun and bring me good luck. .. I hope that I can finally win an important win, something that I have been lacking since the beginning of this season."

Experience gives Cancellara confidence entering Hell

By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiegne, France

Past Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
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Just one day before the 2008 Paris-Roubaix, Team CSC talked with the press at their hotel in Compiegne. Director sportif Scott Sunderland outlined his squad's plans to win Paris-Roubaix for the third year in a row, building upon the success of Fabian Cancellara and Stuart O'Grady. "Fabian will be the team leader, and next to him we have some more cards to play," said Sunderland.

Cyclingnews' asked Cancellara, the 2006 Paris-Roubaix winner, about his form, his rivals and his build-up for one of the most important races of the season.

On Friday at a Quick Step press conference, Tom Boonen had said that he felt Cancellara wasn't as strong during the Ronde van Vlaanderen as he had been three to four weeks earlier, when he racked up victories in Eroica, Milano-Sanremo and Tirrenno-Adriatico. Cancellera responded, "I wasn't 100% in Flanders. I didn't do things in the right way during the week ahead of Flanders, but also during the race." Things didn't go according to plan for Cancellara. "Normally I have plenty of force, but during the Ronde van Vlaanderen I felt like pudding. Compared to last week, I feel 100% more comfortable. I did everything to reach my goal, but when you're not in your day, you can't win Flanders. Devolder showed that you need to be 100%. The way he won showed that he was the strongest and the best rider in the race."

Things are back on track for Cancellara who said, "This week was great and I felt good in Gent-Wevelgem. Already during the reconnaissance of Paris-Roubaix I found the feeling that I was chasing. Let's go to the race now and give all we can, and then everybody can get ready for the after party in our hotel," Cancellara said.

In addition to winning the Paris-Roubaix, Cancellara is chasing another goal. "My dream is to win Milano-Sanremo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix in one year. That's no longer possible, but I'm not saying no to the double Milano-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix," It would be a rather unusual double in that if the Swiss won in Roubaix, he would be the first rider since Museeuw to win Paris-Roubaix twice. Cancellara isn't stopping at trying to win just twice, though. "After my demonstration during my first win here, it was clear that I could go on and win the event a few more times, but it's impossible to say how many."

The 27 year-old Swiss racer, with Italian roots, offered more strong words. With a message for Boonen, Cancellara said, "Last week Tom was already saying that he is so strong, but if you're that strong then I think you need to win races. Since California he didn't win a race, and that is quite long for him, because he is a rider that has the possibility to win more races, and he didn't do it." Cancellara added, "For a lot of riders it's the last chance to win, so there's a lot of pressure on their shoulders.

Fabian Cancellara (CSC)
Photo ©: AFP
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Effectively, Cancellara was shifting the pressure from his shoulders to his Belgian rival and he explained why. "There's a big difference between being a favourite on paper and living up to those expectations in the race. In Paris-Roubaix luckily I'm not the only favourite. There are a lot of riders who can win, but to me, Hincapie is the biggest favourite. He went really well in Flanders, although he didn't grab a great result in the end I saw he rode well. Then there's Flecha who's crazy about the race, but he has never won. Tom is strong, but I repeat that to win a big race you need to win something else ahead of it. To me Hoste rode a strong race last week, but he was unlucky."

Unlike other riders, Cancellara doesn't feel some sort of relationship with the cobbles. He explained how he approached the difficult surface in the North of France. "We've got cobbles in Freiberg and Bern as well, but you can't compare it to those in France. I don't feel love for the cobbles. I think the most important is to find the right feeling for it." What that feeling might be was further explained by the man who is sometimes called "Spartacus". "I'm more nervous than last week, but I'm still very calm. I need to come to the start in a relaxed way and then during the race I need to get into the jet-stream. Once I get in there, I'm unstoppable." It sounds like Spartacus could strike again. The words sounded familiar after last week when Cancellara said he was 100% when going into the Ronde van Vlaanderen. "Last week I said I was 100%, but I was wrong because I was bad. Maybe I went over my limit to say how good I was," Cancellara said.

Cancellara made plenty of strong statements during his chat with the press. When asked why, he said he likes the gossip in the press. "I often search the internet and it's great to see how the others are talking. The wins I have in my bag make me feel comfortable. I have a few things in my pocket that the others don't have. Last year the experience was lacking. I didn't know how the deal with media and everything around the cycling races. Now we're better organized in the team, and wearing the yellow jersey during the Tour de France makes you learn a lot as well. Now I'm much more experienced."

While walking away from the team's hotel, Cyclingnews spotted something special about the bike of Fabian Cancellara. There was a sticker with "Tony M.".Director Sportif Sunderland explained the "wrong" name, just before he drove off toward the team presentation. "It comes from the movie Scarface." Instead of the nickname Spartacus, it may be time to get used to the "Tony Montana", who known for saying, "The world is yours." This is in contrast to what Boonen's pre-race statement from Friday, when the Belgian said, "The most beautiful thing about cycling is that even though you're the strongest rider, you can't just ask the others if they can please let you win; everybody's there to get the best result possible."

Knaven keeping an eye on the numbers

By Gregor Brown in Compiègne

Servais Knaven of Team High Road
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
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Perhaps more than any rider, Servais Knaven of Team High Road knows the importance of keeping an eye on the numbers. The Dutchman who won Paris-Roubaix in 2001 thanks to his strength but also the strong Team Domo Farm-Frites tactics that were possible thanks to the number of its riders in the finale.

"Everyone is good, that is what is most important," confirmed the past champion to Cyclingnews on Saturday morning before Team High Road's training ride.

He noted the importance of keeping up front and with a strong team presence if the weather turns bad. "We will see what happens tomorrow. You will see a completely different story if it is raining tomorrow. I remember the year I won, we were on the first cobblestone sector with a break of 15 guys and then maybe ten riders came back, so it was only 25 riders who really did the race. So you can see that a wet day changes things and that the most important goal is to have as many riders as possible from the team in the front so that we can have a good tactic."

When he won with 2001, there were options for the team to play, namely a super strong Domo Farm-Frites team-mate Johan Museeuw. "It is important to have the most riders possible in the front from the team, but for every race that is the same. I know, like team Quick Step is always very motivated for this race and all the Classics; however, this race is something special also for us, and if we have the riders up front we can do something."

The whole of High Road will likely back USA's George Hincapie, with Bernhard Eisel, Roger Hammond and Knaven playing strong backing roles. "My job, I don't know, we have not really discussed. I think the tactics can be made after the Arenberg Forest. We have a really strong team and everyone is capable of being in the front in the finale; however, first we have to see what happens in the opening kilometres."

Hoj strengthens Nuyens red guard

By Gregor Brown in Compiègne

Frank Hoj of Team Cofidis gets ready
Photo ©: James Huang
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Dane Frank Hoj will have Cofidis team-mate Nick Nuyens backed in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. The 35 year-old has had his share of pavé experiences, including 14th in 2002, and they give him confidence going into Hell – "I will be strong tomorrow and I will be able to look after him."

"Everything is going well," confirmed the talkative Hoj to Cyclingnews Saturday morning in Compiègne, the day before cycling's most popular Classic. He was looking forward to the light training ride after having put in a strong session two day's previously.

"I will do an hour and a half today, two hours maximum," he continued, dressed head-to-toe in the red Cofidis gear, with the Danish flags of past champion on his collar. "Two days ago [Thursday - ed.], we did the piece before Arenberg [Forest] and then the rest on to Carrefour de l'Arbre, so we done almost the whole course. Then, yesterday, we just did one and a half hours. I know the course pretty well."

Hoj came close to personal glory in the "Queen of Classics" in 2002, however, last year he was forced to sit out due to a toe injury. "Last year, I did not even race. ... Once you are here, you appreciate it in a different way. I can't remember how many times I have done Paris-Roubaix, but at a certain point, you just take it for granted that you are here. Like last year, suddenly you realise that it is not going to last for ever and you had better enjoy it.

"My best memories have to the year when I thought I could bridge solo to [Johan] Museeuw, who eventually went on to win the race. However, they caught me with like 20 kilometres before the finish and Museeuw still won and, I don't know, I think I got 16th or something.

"However, it was just the feeling that I could catch him and win the race; even though I did not do it, it was that feeling. It is great when you have the feeling you are reaching for winning – it is the best feeling you can have."

Nick Nuyens
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
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Six years on, he feels assured the team is able to do something good for its leader, Nuyens. "I feel convinced it is going to be a nice race and a good day."

He added that there is no team plan, "Well it is a secret," Hoj joked. "Nuyens is the best finisher. If Nick is there, of course it is going to be everyone for him. We have some other strong riders here as well. We will see what happens. Don't forget, that the classics have gone so well so far and we have a little bit less pressure than usual.

"Sylvain Chavanel had a really good Classics season," he continued, referring to the Frenchman's wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl. "I think he owes a lot to Nick for that. Nick made the doors open for him with his know-how. As a team, it is really fantastic to see stuff like that."

Last week, Hoj proved his strength in helping Nuyens make the key selection and finish second in his home Tour, Ronde van Vlaanderen. "We have not had our meeting yet, but I know I will be the one to look after Nuyens. I know I will be strong tomorrow and I will be able to look after him."

Finally, he revealed that bed weather is a positive factor. "Actually, I prefer rain, it is better for me because it will really chance the race. It is a completely different race when it is raining; you go much slower, it is slippery and it is much more technical."

Paris-Roubaix is the one for Eisel

By Brecht Decaluwé in Compiegne, France

Bernhard Eisel of Team High Road
Photo ©: Gregor Brown
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In the 2006, Paris-Roubaix, after the feared Trouée d'Arenberg, a lead group of 17 riders was left including top favourites Peter Van Petegem, Fabian Cancellara, George Hincapie, Juan Antonio Flecha, Tom Boonen, and so on. A few other guys featured as well, like Joost Posthuma, Nicolas Portal and Bernhard Eisel. Most of them are dropped when the big guns start to fire, but somehow Eisel managed to hang on. The Austrian was dropped on every pavé sector, but with only nine sectors remaining, he is hung in there with Van Petegem, Boonen, Cancellara, Flecha, Gusev, Ballan and Hoste.

When Cancellara accelerated on Camphin-en-Pévele nobody could follow and Eisel ended up eighth. After the disqualification of Van Petegem, Hoste and Ballan, his results improved to an official fifth place. "My trick was not to follow the big guns too long. I quickly dropped back between the cars and hung on over there. After the cobbles I could come back thanks to the cars," Eisel said to Cyclingnews two years ago.

After a disappointing 2007, Eisel is back and riding stronger this year. He hopes to confirm his talent on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. "It was two years ago when I was fifth, but I remember every race I did here. The first time I rode this race I wasn't in time at the finish. Nevertheless it remained one of my preferred races, like Flanders. Two years ago with a fifth place it was a different thing, and last year I had a sh***y form," Eisel explained his performance.

"I had just missed two weeks of training last year. I got sick after Algarve where I was in good form and won a stage. I couldn't race Het Volk and although I started in Kuurne, I struggled with my form," Eisel said. "This year I'm healthy and the form is much better, so I'm looking forward to the race. I've never done it in the rain, so it's going to be tougher than other years. I heard it's going to be a bit warmer than in Flanders, but it's going to be the same weather." The weather during the Ronde van Vlaanderen was horrible with the riders forced to contend with snow, hail and rain.

Eisel looked forward to a new edition of Paris-Roubaix as he described his relationship with the cobbles, "Positive. I love them! With my size and my weight I have to love them."

"I always dreamed about doing Roubaix. I don't know if it's good or bad for cycling, but there are two races in the world that everybody knows and they are the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix," the Austrian pointed out how other races are trying to copy the Paris-Roubaix quoted French events. The Italian Eroica Tre Paschi, with a finish in Siena, is a race that is like a combination of Flanders and Roubaix, with hills and a lot of gravel roads.

When Cyclingnews asked the Team High Road rider how he felt about Eroica and participating there, he answered, "Normally not. I heard it was really well organized and it was a nice race, but it is so far away from Paris-Roubaix," Eisel also complained it was too early in the season. "But there should be another race in America with cobblestones. There's also Tro Bro Leon [France] which I've never raced, and the race in Aarhus [Denmark]. But in the end, Paris-Roubaix is the real one," Eisel said.

Before they get to the pro peloton, young riders have often already had a taste of the cobbles in the U23 race of Paris-Roubaix. While competing in it is not a guarantee for a for a successful pro career, some of today's top riders proved their ability there, but for Eisel that isn't the case. "I've never done it. We only did stages races with the national team, never one-day races."

Nevertheless, the good-tempered Austrian said he learned from the past few years that he can have a good race in the North of France is is optimistic for a podium placing. "For sure I can be on the podium, or win the race, but it's still another thing to be really up there. Of course form is the first thing, but you also need to be really smart, and then it's also up to the teams to decide who the big boss is. We've got 'Georgy' [Hincapie] here and I think he's going to be the man for Sunday," Eisel said of the team's plans to work for Hincapie. "I think that we should work together like we did in the Tour of Flanders and then we can still decide in the end. It's not that George is the only big boss. We ride together as a team. Maybe we can kill everybody in the attacks, while George can be the man in the end?"

Eisel is suggesting he could be that man, too, as he has the speed to claim a sprint win. Thinking of a group finish on the vélodrome in Roubaix, Eisel thought of his track experience. "I did the points race at the junior worlds in 1999, in Athens. As a junior I was riding a lot on the track but in Paris-Roubaix, you just have to be strong. Last week I saw a bunch of nice pictures of the track worlds, but most of the times it simply was the strongest guy who won," Eisel laughed.

The 27 year-old expressed his annoyance with people who try to classify him as a sprinter or a Classics rider. "For some reason everybody wants to put me in one box. Last year I fit in two boxes since I focused on the Classics, and afterwards I also focused on the sprint. During previous years, I was a lead-out man, but then again I was also a sprinter myself. Now I focus on the Classics, but I also want to be in the Tour de France.

"We will see what happens. I don't know why people want to put me in a box while other riders can be called an all-rounder," Eisel wondered and then joked, "but I agree that nobody should call me a climber!" He said this despite the fact that he was spotted during Paris-Nice in the lead group on the first stretches of the Mont Ventoux. Eisel said, "That was a good stage. It [Mont Ventoux] was a climb for me and I can be up there in the breakaway. But it depends on how the form is and how my head feels about the race." On the eve of 2008 Paris-Roubaix, anyway, the thoughts racing through Eisel's head were all about the Hell of the North.

Lottery decides team car order

A lottery was used on Saturday to assign the order of the team cars for Paris-Roubaix. The lucky teams of some of the favorites drew favorable starting spots while the less fortunate will find their cars near the back of the queue on Sunday morning.

"This system is not good," said Silence - Lotto team leader Hendrik Redant according to sporza.be. "A rider can lose minutes if he has a breakdown." His team drew the 22nd position.

Favorite George Hincapie's High Road team fared even worse with a second-from-last starting spot. Narrow roads and challenging conditions mean that some riders may have to go so far back into the caravan for assistance, that they may not be able to regain their position within the race.

Team Quick Step's Tom Boonen's and Stijn Devolder had better luck with their support car drawing a fifth position spot.

Normally, in a major race like Paris-Roubaix, ProTour team classifications would stipulate team car order, but since the Amaury Sports Organisation is holding the event outside of the ProTour, a lottery was used instead.

Sporza reported the starting order for team cars as follows: Saunier Duval, Tinkoff, Française des Jeux, Barloworld, Quick.Step, Slipstream, . Cofidis, CSC, Cycle Collstrop, Agritubel, Milram, Crédit Agricole, Caisse d'Epargne, Rabobank, Euskaltel, Bouygues Telecom, AG2R, Gerolsteiner, Lampre, Landbouwkrediet, Liquigas, Silence-Lotto, Skil, High Road, and Topsport Vlaanderen.

Barloworld for Paris-Roubaix

Team Barloworld will be racing Sunday's Paris-Roubaix, their fourth ProTour race of the season with Baden Cooke looking to be in the thick of action on Sunday.

He will be joined by Patrick Calcagni, Robert Hunter, Paolo Longo Borghini, Christopher Froome, Daryl Impey, Carlo Scognamiglio and Marco Corti.

Patrick Calcagni, fresh from his GP Pino Cerami win, jokingly commented on the upcoming race, "I don't win a lot and who knows when it'll happen again, so please take a lot of photographs. I have felt good recently and I'm happy to have won for both myself and for the team. I'm convinced we can do well at Paris-Roubaix."

"The team is motivated to do well after winning two races during their long stay in northern Europe and we are hoping for a prestigious third win," said Team Manager Claudio Corti.

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