I can't help but be amazed by these guys! They rode the first part of the race at an average speed of over 50kph (30mph). Sure it's a pancake-flat course but the extended nasty cobble sections and tiny windy roads should have slowed them down a bit! What the trying terrain did manage to do is cause most of the riders to hit pavement during some point of the race. With all the race crashes, where most of the riders hit the pavement (or cobbles) at some point during the race, it was really hard to keep up with who was up and who was down. I did notice, however, that one of the race favorites Pozzato did an amazing job after his nasty crash that ripped his his shorts to shreds. His effort was not enough, though, because by the time he got to the front, the peloton had just split again.
The cobbles are just so incredibly hard that guys were falling simply by slipping - even when they had perfect view of the road ahead. And when the guys behind would try to adjust their path to avoid riding on top of the guy, they too would fall, causing major pick-up-stix all over the course.
With all the confusion, I only really started to pay attention to the race at 50km to go, when the peloton got down to about 12 riders. Hincapie was part of the group but somehow disappeared. When the camera panned back to him, he looked fine but was not riding very fast. He was getting visibly frustrated by two guys on his wheel. He was trying to wave them past but they wouldn't pass him. Maybe they figured he's George Hincapie so if they stay on his wheel, they will inevitably make it to the front of the race! He must have crashed or had a technical.
Stijn Devolder put in a MAJOR attack on the cobbles at about 45km to go. A few minutes later he was joined by Stuart O'Grady of CSC. (Pretty impressive move for O'Grady who self-admittedly has no form.) When Boonen stood up making a motion to follow O'Grady, Cancellara stood up as well, basically letting Boonen know that if he tries to go, he will be bringing Cancellara with him. Smooth move! Boonen sat back down.
Now that the peloton is down to six guys to bridge to Devolder of Quick Step and O'Grady of CSC, Lief Hoste (Silence-Lotto) who is one of the favorites to win has to chase - WITH Boonen AND Cancellara on his wheel. That must suck. Worse yet, his blistering pace just dropped his own teammate Van Summeren briefly. By the way, we have a Slipstream-Chipotle guy (Maaskant) in the group of 6. If he won, that would be EXCELLENT for the American-based team who have been very outspoken about their anti-drug policy.
Group back together. Boonen and Cancellara are staring at each other. Boonen finally attacks and Cancellara is instantly there, along with ballan in tow. Perfect timing - right before a cobbled section where you can gain lots of time in a short time. Naturally the three instantly make a gap from the chasing group of four with Hoste forcing to chase - again!!! With a quickstep and CSC in the group, that leaves them with only two guys to do the chase to bridge to the three strongest guys in the race. And the other guy from Slipstream-Chiipotle knows that as soon as he does a pull in the front and someone attacks, he can kiss his top 10 in paris-roubaix goodbye!
Well, the playing game got both Hoste and Maaskant chasing devolder and O'grady. All of this while the three front rider continue to work together. The chase group of four are back together.
At the head of the course, Boonen, Cancellara and Ballan are working nicely together except for the periodic attack by Boonen and Cancellara. How can these guys race at 60kph after over 250km of riding.
With 15km to go, they are already starting to play games. Cancellara just elbowed Boonen around and Boonen took his time to make his move to the front. With Boonen and Cancellara staring at each other, it would be funny if Ballan won. If he doesn't, I will just edit this blog to read something else! haha - if i remember to do that!
They are at 11km to go, the three are on the small windy roads, great for a last minute attack. Two of the tree guys must be really feeling the dread of having to choose the perfect moment for an attack that will stick so it doesn't come to a sprint finish. I'm getting exhausted just thinking about how they are going to pull that off...and how much self-inflicted pain that will cause. At least it's not raining.
Ballan just sprayed water on his back. In 10 degree C weather, that can't be a refreshing feeling.
You probably know who I want to win, but just in case it isn't known, of the three leaders I'm hoping for a Boonen win. It is now 4km to go and they are still working together. The track is just around the corner. Maybe the non-Boonens heard what i wrote on my blog and agreed with me that it is just too dreadful to get the nerve to attack Boonen. I bet they are thinking at this moment, "Shit! The track is almost here, less than 3km to the finish, how do i get rid of Boonen? My legs hurt, I'm tired, and even if i attack, Boonen will hunt me down and shoot past for the finish, leaving me in 3rd place. If i wait for the finish, then my legs will hurt for only twenty seconds and i have a chance for 2nd place."
OK, less than 2km left. Boonen just gave Cancellara a nudge to get him in 2nd position while he himself takes the back so he can keep an eye on them all.
It is official, they are on the track together. Suckers. The bell is ringing at 5hr 58 minutes and Ballan is leading the sprint which is 1 lap in distance. Boonen came around both of them on the outside and just destroyed them - DESTROYED them. Not even funny, not even close. He made it look like child's play. OVER twenty bike lengths.
After all the negative talk about him over the recent weeks - rather months - it is great to see him take back his honor using his legs. I also want to note that he was an excellent support rider in this race for Devolder when he attacked earlier in the race. Real class.
Yippee - Maaskant (Slipstream-Chipotle) just rode in for fourth. Great job. O'Grady-5th, Hoste - 6th and Devolder - 7th. I think Hincapie was 9th from what i just heard.
How touching - Boonen is crying...now I am too. Devolder just came over and they hugged and Boonen started crying again. Mind you, this is now seven minutes after the finish of the race. Gosh he looks so incredibly thrilled. He is being interviewed right now by flemish television and - only in Belgium - midway through it both interviewer and Tommeke switched to French.
OK. The race is over and so am I.
Thanks for reading my rendition of Parijs-Roubaix. I would have taken photos but it's just not the same when you take them of a television set.