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Paris-Roubaix News, April 11, 2009

Edited by Peter Hymas

Boonen heads Quick Step trident

By Brecht Decaluwé in Kortrijk, Belgium

Tom Boonen is confident he's on peak form for Sunday
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
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Coming into this year's Paris-Roubaix it seems as if the Belgian Quick Step team will be the team to beat on Sunday. One of the team's protected riders is Tom Boonen. After a disappointing Ronde van Vlaanderen in which Filippo Pozzato covered every move from the Belgian star, Boonen is now keen on making up for that shadow fight on the cobbles of Roubaix. Being a specialist in one-day races and having few chances for a big win, Tommeke bears the burden of pressure over the pavé.

"I'm always under pressure so that won't be a difference," Boonen said, showing confidence after the team's reconnaissance ride in northern France on Friday. "With the sensations I have I know what I'm capable of," Boonen stated. "The last few weeks, and even the last few days, my form has continued to improve; I peaked to perfection. During the Ronde I wasn't able to drop Pozzato, which normally shouldn't be a problem."

Knowing that the form of the 28-year-old Belgian, who was a top favorite ahead of the Ronde van Vlaanderen, is still improving, he remains in that position for Paris-Roubaix. "This race suits me even better than Flanders. Cavendish says I'm getting old," said Tom Boonen. "With my body it's easier nowadays as the selection over the cobbles is made early on. If you look around you with forty kilometers to go there's only about 15 riders left. It's an honest race; if you're good in Paris-Roubaix then 9/10 times you're in front," Boonen said.

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When asked about his race plan, Boonen said he didn't have one going into the 'hell' Classic. "I had a plan in Flanders and that didn't work out too well," Boonen said, referring to the shadow game with Filippo Pozzato. "I'm not the type of rider who focuses on other riders during a race; there's not much chance of luck with such a tactic," Boonen said.

Having his party spoiled the way it happened during the most important Flemish race isn't keeping Boonen from liking the game. "Every year I'm coming into these races with the same hunger and diligence to win them. The day that I'm lacking that I'd better start doing something else," Boonen said.

The win from Devolder in Flanders and the annoyance from Boonen may result in Quick Step trying to set up Boonen for the win, leaving space for rumors on an internal battle on who will be the sole leader. Boonen left no room for misunderstandings and pointed out how Quick Step will be riding on Sunday. "There are three protected riders: Stijn [Devolder], Sylvain [Chavanel] and myself; there's no pecking order. We're teammates, not rivals. You can't take away the right to have ambition to be a good rider," Boonen said.

Besides the two Belgian team leaders, Chavanel will be flanking the Quick Step trident, even though it's been eight years since the French ace last raced Paris-Roubaix. "Sylvain will certainly be riding the finale, he has the ability to do that. He already proved in other races that he can ride the cobbles," Boonen said about his French teammate.

When asked about the riders from other teams he expects to ride near the front when approaching Roubaix, Boonen named Fabian Cancellara, Martijn Maaskant and Juan Antonio Flecha. "I don't think Cancellara is in bad shape. Martijn is still young and though I haven't seen him doing grand moves, he's capable of hanging on which is more than enough at his tender age.

"Of course we are the favorites; we don't need to get rid of that role," said Boonen. "We didn't have the luxury to make a selection out of twelve riders, but the eight riders at the start are all really good. Of course, we're missing a rider like Steven De Jongh, but Matteo Tossato is taking over that job. Still, the language is a problem sometimes. We'll need every man because in a race like Paris-Roubaix you can make the difference with the team."


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Pozzato: "I am here to win"

By Gregor Brown in Gruson, France

Pozzato hopes to repeat this gesture on the Roubaix velodrome.
Photo ©: AFP
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Filippo Pozzato heads into Paris-Roubaix this Sunday with only one goal in mind: "to win". Katusha's charismatic Italian has to beat old teammate and the defending champion Tom Boonen, who he intends to control all the way to the velodrome in Roubaix.

"If you have the strongest rider out there it is normal that the others use him as a reference point," said Pozzato. "I raced this way at Flanders because I did not feel super. Boonen is the favourite for Sunday so it is clear that everyone will watch him and keep him in check."

Pozzato attacked several times in Sunday's Ronde van Vlaanderen, but always found himself out-numbered by Boonen's Quick Step team. Once Devolder attacked on the Eikenmolen to join teammate Sylvain Chavanel, Pozzato had to re-group with teammate Serguei Ivanov and mark Boonen.

One week on, Pozzato is preparing for northern France's Paris-Roubaix. The race, 259 kilometres in length, takes in many of the old cobbled roads that used to be the main pathways for French farmers.

Pozzato expects that Quick Step will send Chavanel in an early escape, but that he will mark Boonen and Ronde winner Devolder. However, his E3 Prijs win and Sunday's performance gives him the confidence to overcome the Belgian team and his other rivals.

"You have to give the race respect. If the course is dry then the rider with the legs will be the one who wins and not someone who just draws the lucky card. This is the best for everyone."

Bookies give 'Pippo' Pozzato 1:12 odds to win, the same as Swiss Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank). Boonen has the best odds, 1:3.5, and Devolder has 1:7.

"Definitely, I can do something there. I know [Juan Antonio] Flecha is going very well: in Flanders he flatted and bridged back, he crashed and bridged back, and then he attacks in the finale. You have to count him in with Boonen as one of the favourites.

"I think Cancellara will have a good Roubaix, his form is still rising. George Hincapie? He has the ability to stay up front, but he is not one of those that can make the difference. Maybe I am mistaken, but he seems to have the constant rhythm, but maybe not one who can make the difference."

Pozzato finished the Hell of the North 15th in 2006, his highest ever placing. He finished 35th in 2007 and, after a bad crash prior to the Arenberg sector, he took 49th last year.

"If I get on the podium it would be nice, but I am here to win. If I only get second there will be all sorts of [negative] articles in the paper the next day."

Pozzato knows that home there are millions of Italians who will cheer him on this Easter Sunday. He remembers himself doing the same when he was a small boy in Sandrigo, yelling for Franco Ballerini or Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle to win.

Hayman ready to give all for Flecha

By Daniel Benson

Mathew Hayman (Rabobank)
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
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After finishing fourth in Gent-Wevelgem, Rabobank's Mathew Hayman is ready to support Juan Antonio Flecha in Paris-Roubaix this Sunday. The Australian, and five-time Roubaix finisher, has worked for Rolf Sørensen, Leon van Bon, Marc Wauters and Flecha since turning professional with Rabobank, and on the eve of his sixth start, he is ready to sacrifice his own chances for those of his team leader.

"I was pleased with how Gent-Wevelgem went. We had four riders in the mix and it was a testament to how we've been riding in the Classics so far. The team has been one of the most aggressive this season. We had fewer riders than Cervélo and we were looking good until had bad luck stuck," Hayman told Cyclingnews.

Both Hayman and teammate Graeme Brown were in the lead group but crashed, with Hayman forced to chase and Brown taken to the hospital. Hayman put the episode down to the bad luck that has plagued the team this spring: "Everyone has their own story of bad luck in races; where they crashed and where they punctured but we seem to flat or fall at just the wrong times. Hopefully that will change this weekend and we can get the result our riding deserves."

Hayman, who will ride reconnaissance on Friday, is ready to serve Flecha, who has finished second and fourth in Roubaix. "We have a pretty tight team and spent a lot of time together but with so many races it's like going into battle each day. We're ready for one last charge, though."

According to Hayman, Flecha is different to any team captain he has ridden for in that the Spaniard rides on pure emotion. "He did an unbelievable ride at Flanders and not many people will have seen that," Hayman said. "He crashed on the descent of the Koppenberg and chased for ages before getting back into the action. That took real character."

The Rabobank team was created in 1996 and despite notable wins in Flanders, Milano-Sanremo and Amstel over the years the Dutch team has failed to win a single Paris-Roubaix. Rolf Sørensen made the top 10 when dueling for the World Cup in 1997 and 1998, while van Bon and Wauters came close, too. "My first leader was Sørensen and then van Bon but I took the most pleasure in riding for Wauters. He was so solid and such a good worker, but every time Roubaix came around he would stand up and ask that everyone unite around him. It was the only time he'd do it and I really enjoyed riding for him," Hayman said.

Backstedt rates Roubaix favorites

By Daniel Benson

Boasson Hagen's Gent-Wevelgem win impressed Backstedt
Photo ©: Tim Van Wichelen
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Magnus Backstedt may have retired from elite competition but the 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner has kept a close eye on the pros. On the eve of the race he took time out to talk favourites and parcours with Cyclingnews.

"This is the most open race in years," he said. "I think we could have a surprise winner at the end of the race. You just have to look at the racing this year, it's been very, very open and watching and commentating has been absolutely spectacular."

The Swede, a former Garmin-Slipstream rider, competed in seven editions of the race. He believes that after their domination at Flanders, Boonen's Quick Step team has the potential tools to dominate. "Quick Step has always raced strongly at this time of year and they'll continue that in Roubaix. They'll have strength in numbers and Roubaix is one of those races where that counts, so if a big star gets caught out they have a second hand to play. However, this is a much harder race to control. If you look at Columbia, with Boasson Hagen and George Hincapie, they have a strong team too."

Boasson Hagen's breakthrough win in Gent-Wevelgem caught Backstedt's eye in particular. "Edvald was so strong so he could have another really good ride. Cervélo look like they're starting to tire but they keep pulling it out of the bag every time they race."

However, Backstedt thought that one particular rider might not have the legs for Sunday's race. "I'm not sure about Cancellara as it's difficult to tell how good he is. Don't count him out, though. He'll have prepared for this race and he's the type of rider who can perform on any given day. I just worry whether he's got the miles in his legs."

During his final season as professional Backstedt witnessed Martijn Maaskant's development first hand and the pair rode together in the Swede's final Roubaix, with Maaskant finishing fourth. "As long as Martijn can cope with the pressure I think he'll be up there as a major force. After what he did last year he'll have to do all his talking with his legs, though. He won't get anything for free, I can guarantee that. Finishing fourth in Flanders shows he has the form."

Backstedt believes that team support will be crucial if the Dutchman is to repeat or better his 2008 result. "Garmin possibly lacks strength, but in the last couple of races they have pulled together well. As long as they have support for Martijn until the second feed, at 200 kilometres, he should be fine. After that it's every man for himself. They have got the strength to do that."

The former winner played down any relevance in the change of course, which has seen a section of pavé removed from before the famous Arenberg forest. "What you do before the forest doesn't make any difference; it's what you do through the forest and after it that really counts. It will be interesting to see who is going well in that section, but you can't win the race there. The course change doesn't make too much difference."

Eisel's aim: help Hincapie win Roubaix

By Daniel Benson

Eisel will ride in support of Hincapie
Photo ©: ISPA
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Bernhard Eisel is going into Sunday's Paris-Roubaix with one aim: to propel George Hincapie to the top of the podium. Eisel, 28, has been an integral part of Bob Stapleton's Columbia-Highroad team during the past two seasons, figuring in the Grand Tours for Kim Kirchen and sprints for Mark Cavendish.

"Marcus Burghardt, my roommate, is in great form but George is going really well and it would be great to see him reach the top of the podium near the end of his career," Eisel told Cyclingnews from the team's base in Gent.

The former Reading Classic winner has competed in every Roubaix since his debut in 2003 and admits the event has a special place in his heart. "I have loved this race ever since I rode my first edition back in 2003. Along with the Tour of Flanders it's my favourite, and all my winter preparation is based around these two races," he said. Unfortunately Eisel crashed in Flanders earlier in the week and despite starting Gent-Wevelgem, he is still suffering the effects with a bruised shoulder.

Despite working for the team, the Austrian didn't rule out his ambition to one day win Roubaix. "The good thing about Roubaix is you never know what can happen. If the weather changes or if you're in a break, then you always have a chance. Luck plays a big part. But this year I hope I can play a role at the end by being up there with the boys."

On Thursday the Columbia team rode reconnaissance over the cobbled sections of the route with experienced Roubaix veterans, Eisel and Hincapie, pointing out how to ride the most important sections of cobbles. "Every sector will be interesting, and if it rains will be really dangerous. We rode from the Arenberg to the second-last section of the pavé but Marcus and Edvald did a little bit less after their efforts in Gent-Wevelgem."

As for Edvald Boasson Hagen, Eisel had nothing put praise to add. "He's a phenomenon, just like Cavendish and he could be our joker in the pack on Sunday. He's young but he's ready for this race and overall the team is in good shape."

Cyclingnews weekly podcast: Episode 6

The revenge of Heinrich Haussler?

This week's Cyclingnews weekly podcast number 6 is coming to you from Gent, Belgium, the nerve centre of the cobbled classics.

Cyclingnews.com editor Daniel Benson and European editor Gregor Brown analyse past, present and future: the Tour of Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix.

Being fickle media types, we wrote off Cervélo TestTeam's Heinrich Haussler in Episode 5. His performance in the E3 Prijs was sub-par and we figured he wouldn't return to full form in the Tour of Flanders. He was finished, done for, last week's news, we thought.

How wrong we were.

The Australian-born German-based rider proved that he's still got good legs by finishing second in Flanders behind winner Stijn Devolder (Quick.Step). Can he now challenge for the Paris-Roubaix crown?

And what of Edvald Boasson Hagen, surprise winner of Gent-Wevelgem on Wednesday? Despite losing Mark Cavendish early on in the race, Columbia-Highroad still came away with the spoils in this mid-week classic with their man Hagen making light work of Aleksandr Kuschynski in their two man sprint. We spoke to Columbia-Highroad team manager Bob Stapleton just after the finish for his reaction to his talented Norwegian protégé.

We have all that and a little more in Episode 6 of the Cyclingnews weekly podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes (or just go to iTunes and search for 'cyclingnews') or via this XML feed.

You can also download the podcasts directly by clicking on these links:

  • April 9: Tour of Flanders, Heinrich Haussler's return to form, Gent-Wevelgem, Bob Stapleton air time and Paris-Roubaix
  • April 1: E3 Prijs, Heinrich Haussler's form slump, track worlds and Lance's metal implants
  • March 26: Jens Voigt, Milan-San Remo, Mark Cavendish, Heinrich Haussler, David Millar, Lance Armstrong and the track worlds
  • March 19: Tour de France teams, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo preview and Heinrich Haussler
  • March 12: Paris-Nice mid-race, Tirreno-Adriatico preview and Heinrich Haussler
  • March 5: Valverde summonsed, Belgian opening weekend and Heinrich Haussler

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