What does make of you a Roubaix Rider? it isn't enough to be a One Day Race riders nor to be a Classics riders. Climbing or sprinting skills are both usefull but Roubaix isn't a sprinters' race as well as it isn't - more obviously maybe - a climbers' race. Roubaix is a part, 'sui generis', peculiar. You don't start here 'just to train' and it's quite difficult to train for it... elsewhere than here. You must to be a Roubaix rider SO MUCH that you need a Roubaix bike. No-Roubaix bikes and riders seriously risk to have got something broken at the end of the day and even Roubaix specialists can't tell if that will be the case.There is an interesting article by Barry Ryan here:
It's about Bradley Wiggins' chances in the next Paris-Roubaix but it also lists some of the required qualities of a Roubaix Rider. Wiggins' decision to ride it raised a large debate and one the first remark was that the last Tour de France winner to do so has been Greg LeMond in 1992. But Ryan is right to underline how "Paris-Roubaix turned into a race for specialists sooner than any other" given that "Bernard Hinault’s famous 1981 victory is the last time a Tour winner has also gone on to land Paris-Roubaix, and in the past half a century only three other men have worn yellow in Paris and triumphed on the Roubaix velodrome – Felice Gimondi, Jan Janssen and Eddy Merckx. Indeed, Sean Kelly – who won in 1984 and 1986, and later took the Vuelta a España in 1988 – is the last man to inscribe both a major stage race and the Queen of the Classics on his palmarès." So it seems that Roubaix has never really beena race as the others, at least since in 'modern cycling', when the most of the 'normal' races runs on tarmac. Earlier, in the 'heroic times' of cycling, there wasn't probably all that difference and it's easy to see how riders themselves were a different human type.
A Roubaix rider, physically, is a bit an old style rider: strong builded. In the same article Fabian Cancellara says: “With Tour de France weight you’re not going to go anywhere”. Big tours contenders are often skinny climbers and in spite their body is obviously 'strong' in terms of capacity of generating power their scarce weight doesn't allow stability and aderence on that horrible pavé. Once Cancellara said you must fly on it: only a constant high speed combinated with a quite big weight makes the miracle. So weight is a factor.
But it isn't enough. A constant high speed means a constant effort so a Roubaix rider must be also a good cronomen (like Cancellara) or a rider used to race on the trak in the individual pursuir, like Taylor Phinney who says: “Individual pursuit is all about power and holding it for a certain period of time and that’s what riding over the cobbles is." Endurance is a second factor.
That's what you need to start a Roubaix but to win it the right attitude is also crucial: 200 strong and resistent riders start, few finish and only one wins. In between it's an all against all fight for positions. You need a strong team and strong mates who keep you in front in every races but here you are required to stay in front by yourself, especially in the second part of the race, when the most of your mates... already retired or crashed or are exhausted. It's a fact and Filippo Pozzato, second in here in 2009, points it out: "If you’re always at the back when you get to the pavé, you have to make twice the effort just to get up to the front again. [...] If you don’t hit the Arenberg Forest in the first 40 riders, then your race is over there." In Italian we have a word for this skill: 'limare'. Some riders are better than others to stay in front and that's a 3rd very important factor.
A Roubaix rider with ambitions must be strong, resistent and able to stay in front. Is that all? No. Mat Hayman adds an important 4th factor: “That’s what I think it comes down to in the classics. You have to want to be there and you have to put yourself on the line." You must be motivated, focused and willing to race, like in every races of course but here especially. As I said, you don't do Roubaix just to train: first of all because it's a dangerous race, then because is very demanding. You crash here and your season could be over. Simply finishing is a goal especially for young riders and Roubaix beginners. And usually you must earn your spot in a Roubaix squad.
For the first time in my life I go to Roubaix and I'm very excited. My son and I are going to partecipate to the Trek Factory Racing's Fan Club meeting near Orchies - more here
We'll stay in Lille so let me know if you are around.
Fabian Cancellara is the number one favourite: look at him and you'll be forced to admit that he has got all what you need to be a Roubaix Rider. The second favourite is in my opinion Sep Vanmarcke. Van Avermaet, Vansummeren, Boasson Hagen, Stybar, Terpstra and Sagan are also on the list. Tom Boonen hardly but you never know.
I don't think a sprinter like Degenkolb, Kristoff, Démare or Rojas can win it, in spite they showed a good shape in the Ronde. Hushovd and Farrar weren't in shape and I don't think they will be on Sunday. What about Wiggings? In the Ronde he was riding well, doing a lot of work for the team. I don't exclude a very good performace, but I don't see him winning. What about Taylor Phinney? is he going to work for Van Avermaet again? he's definitely grown up since his last partecipation in this race that he especially loves. Don't underate him.
But it's hard to bet because this race can develops itself in many different ways. It depends on the weather - it's going to dìbe dry - on the good or bad luck, on crashes - sadly - on unpredictable events. I'll be there to report. Just be patient because I'll write when I come back.