Paris-Roubaix 2006

Paris-Roubaix is my favorite of the one-day classics and every year many American cycling fans and I hope to see George Hincapie finally get his win. Paris-Roubaix is one of the toughest races in all of cycling and this year, with the dreaded Arenberg Forest back in the lineup, it continued to demonstrate why. I wouldn't hestitate to call this year's Paris-Roubaix one of the craziest road races I've ever seen.

Paris-Roubaix is somewhat like a videogame. There are 27 sectors of cobblestones the riders must cross as they count down to sector 1. Each sector is rated on a scale of difficulty from one to five stars. There are no real climbs, but it doesn't matter because the gaps between the cobblestones are wicked enough to grab your wheel and flip you into the ground.

Tom Boonen put a huge amount of pressure on the peloton in the infamous Arenberg Forest sector and managed to split off a lead group of seventeen riders that quickly dropped to fourteen. Hincapie was right on Boonen's wheel and had the superior tactical position. Last year, Hincapie had to take on Boonen by himself and wasn't strong enough to counter Boonen's sprint in the finishing velodrome. This year, Hincapie had two teammates -- Hoste and Gusev -- riding alongside him whereas Boonen had none.

So was this finally Hincapie's year? No. The cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix snapped off Hincapie's handlebars. Hincapie threw up his hands in surprise as his bike spun into the side of the road and flipped him into the ground. Hincapie had crashed earlier in the day and there was speculation that the handlebars may have been weakened.

As Discovery Sport Director Johan Bruyneel stood alongside his fallen rider, he had to think quick. Boonen was already attacking in the ensuing chaos and managed to drop Hoste and Gusev. They fought back into the breakaway but Gusev was then sent flying as his wheels got caught in the cobblestones coming around a curve. Luckily, he was able to get back on his bike and join back up. The day wasn't going great for Discovery, but they still had two riders in the lead break.

Another team that had a good tactical position in the lead breakaway was CSC, which had both Fabian Cancellara and Lars Michaelsen. Cancellara attacked and Gusev followed. Both are strong time trialers and set nearly identical times in the Tour of California Stage 3 time trial, but Cancellara was stronger this time around and Gusev slowly lost ground on the cobblestones. Back in Boonen's chase group, Hoste and Lotto's Van Petegem attacked and the isolated Boonen finally showed weakness as he couldn't follow.

Gusev and Hoste linked back up into a group of three with Van Petegem as they tried to chase down Cancellara's lead of half a minute. They weren't doing a very good job pulling Cancellara back, but a train gate came down and disrupted their pursuit even further. The three riders decided to slip around the gates in front of the oncoming train, but Boonen's group had no choice but to wait for the train to pass.

Cancellara easily coasted across the finish line in the velodrome. Even without the train he probably would have held off his chasers and he added another thirty seconds to his lead in the final sectors. The craziness of this year's race wasn't quite over, though: Hoste came across the finish line in second but was disqualified with the rest of his group for going across the train tracks with the gate down. Tom Boonen, who crossed the finish line in fifth, ended up taking second place, beaten, but still on the podium.

Update: some post-Paris-Roubaix reports: * Davitamon is officially protesting Van Petegem's disqualification * Bruyneel: Paris-Roubaix Reflections (Paceline registration required) * Hincapie Update - Post Paris-Roubaix (Paceline registration required) * Trek Discusses Hincapie's P-R Crash (Paceline registration required)

related articles: Pro Tour 2006
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Comments (2)

glynn:

What seems even weirder to me is that from the photos, it looks as though the gates were still down when Boonen rode through. How are you going to disqualify someone for riding through with the gates closed before any trains came through, and not when doing the same after one has come by? As to safety, what if there were two trains coming?!

kwc:

Yeah, Boonen went through with the gates down after the train had passed. It was pure craziness on TV. I half expected the TV signal to suddenly go to static when the TV bike hesitated crossed the tracks after Hoste/Gusev/Van Petegem.

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