According to Anthony Tan, there’s little more than a one in a hundred chance that someone whose name is not Fabian Cancellara will win this year’s Paris-Roubaix. For the peloton’s dark horses, that’s enough of a carrot for a chance to be immortalised.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Barring a serious crash (or crashes), an inopportune puncture (is there ever a good time?), or a mechanical sans mechanic (waiting more than a minute for your team car happens not infrequently in this race), Fabian Cancellara will win Sunday.

It's that simple, I'm afraid.

I say that with the same certainty that I will get married next year, which, regrettably for the 3.6 billion other women in the world, comes with a ninety-nine percent level of confidence.

Prior to Sunday last, my feeling was that Cancellara was more beatable in Flanders than Roubaix because his brute strength and barn house build makes him tailor made for l'enfer du Nord. No race suits a rider more than Roubaix does for Fabian. And while we do get the same, or similar, riders winning both Flanders and Roubaix Рindeed, Cancellara is one of them Рit is my belief they're actually both quite different; Flanders has the edge on tactical nous, Roubaix the nod on severity due to the unbridled brutalism of enduring just short of thirty secteurs of pav̩.

However for the very reason there are twenty-eight pavé passages to be overcome in this year's Voyage to Hell (totalling 51 kilometres), and luck consequently plays a greater hand in Roubaix than Flanders because coming a cropper on one secteur can instantly throw one out of contention, I give the dark horses, the outside chances, the one-in-a-hundreds, call them what you will, a better chance to upset the apple cart this Sunday rather than last.

Also, the constant focus and marking of the favourites can sometimes let one flee unawares till its too late, as demonstrated by Johan Vansummeren's great escape three years ago, or as happened in the Roubaix velodrome in '97 with Frédéric Guesdon, who used his relative anonymity to win an eight-man sprint against riders like Jo Planckaert, Johan Museeuw and Frédéric Moncassin.

Two outsider victories in the last twenty years, but enough to bestow hope with men like these that nothing is impossible.

Lars Boom, Maarten Tjallingii (both Belkin)

Belkin has Flanders podium finisher and 2013 Paris-Roubaix runner-up Sep Vanmarcke but they boast strength in depth, too. While he hasn't enjoyed the best build-up Boom has finished 12th, 6th and 14th in the past three Roubaix (2010-12). Tjallingii came third in the 2011 edition, finishing in a select three-man group with Cancellara and Grégory Rast, before finishing 33rd and 18th the next two years.

"Sep is really good and needs to be protected. That creates opportunities for others, as well, as everyone will be looking at Sep," Tjallingii said. "That was the key to my third place in 2011, so something like that can happen again on Sunday. During Milano-Sanremo, I was in a leading position up to nine kilometres from the line. Roubaix suits me even better and hopefully I can hold on a little longer on Sunday. My recent form gives me a lot of confidence."

Taylor Phinney (BMC)

You saw how strong he was in the break last Sunday, in his first Tour of Flanders. He spent most of the day out front and still finished 40th. Roubaix suits him even more. A precocious 15th in his first trip to Hell, 23rd last year, and a double winner of the under-23 Roubaix in 2009-10.

His leader Greg Van Avermaet is clearly in fine fettle and finished fourth last year behind Cancellara, Vanmarcke and Niki Terpstra but Phinney's a great decoy; I can see him 'doing a Vansummeren'.

One day Taylor will no longer tinker and win this race, I'm convinced of it. One day might be Sunday. Ignore the fact that he's just 23 – there's been at least ten Roubaix winners younger than he and for what it's worth Rik van Steenbergen won the Tour of Flanders at the age of 19.

Tyler Farrar, Sebastian Langeveld (Garmin-Sharp)

Farrar's been travelling along nicely this spring. Five Roubaix starts with a career-best 28th in 2011 and this season, a pair of notable podiums at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Wednesday at the Scheldeprijs. Not so good in races over 220km so he'll need to get in a good-sized early break with a teammate and keep himself fresh as poss' so he can pump 'em in the sprint. But don't put any more than two dollars on a win and five on a podium.

Top-ten in Flanders and Roubaix last spring, you'd have to say Langeveld, at the very least, has an outside chance. Appears to be going as well as he did in the lead-up as last year but – and it's a significant but – no better, with similar performances in M-SR and E3 Prijs and last weekend repeating his tenth place in De Ronde.

Got another fiver, guv?

Alexander Kristoff, Luca Paolini (Katusha)

For me Kristoff falls in the same bucket as John Degenkolb, ZdenÄ›k Åtybar and Niki Terpstra, in that he's more outside favourite than outsider. All thrive in hard races and adverse conditions, which happen to epitomise Paris-Roubaix.


It's been a brilliant spell thus far for the stocky Norwegian, and some would think that his run of form must soon come to an end – but that goes for the rest of his rivals, too, so I don't see it being a factor. He went from 57th to 9th between the 2012 and 2013 Paris-Roubaix, and a sprightly 26 years young, Kristoff is only going to get stronger as the years progress. His hirsute guru Luca Paolini, 11 years his senior, is riding like a man reborn this spring, closing the knowledge gap on a rider otherwise too young to win.

Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida)

A palmarès not dissimilar to my academic report card, from primary through to university. Flashes of brilliance followed by long spells of mediocrity, and everything else in between. (My excuse was that the subjects I was apathetic towards, I just didn't bother trying, so I would wag class and ride a century instead.)

A career-best second to three-time champ Tom Boonen in 2009, Pippo looked half-decent Sunday in Flanders after unspectacular showings in Sanremo, Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem. Like Flanders, Roubaix rewards experience; Season 2014 is Pozzato's fifteenth as a pro. And he's still only 32.

The biggest obstacle preventing him winning Sunday is not Cancellara.

It's Filippo Pozzato.

Mathew Hayman (Orica-GreenEDGE)

"Paris-Roubaix is my favourite race. It's the one I like doing most. The one I look forward to every year. Once it's finished I almost get depressed, knowing I have to wait 365 days for the next one."

Hayman has a dozen starts to his pet race of the season and two recent top-tens – tenth in 2011, eighth 2012. Things didn't go so well last year at Sky, finishing 52nd, and so far you wouldn't say it's been an auspicious 2013, although his best result this spring came last weekend when he ran 51st in the Ronde.

He'll line up as a co-leader along with Jens Keukeleire but Hayman is far more credentialed than his Belgian teammate when it comes to the Queen of the Classics. "If lady luck shines, I might even have a chance," he said. "It was a big change in going from doing your job for someone else to being the one who finishes the job off for the team."

He says it's a monument in itself just to get to Roubaix but a rider of his calibre can do so much more than simply finish. I honestly believe that, if he has the best day of his life on the bike, and that happens to coincide with the day of Paris-Roubaix, he will not need to seek the podium; the podium will find him.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky)

"I want to do well in Roubaix, it's no secret. You don't start that race unless you want to do well... Whether it happens or not is another thing," he said Wednesday at the Scheldeprijs.

He tried his best not to go too deep in Flanders, where he ran a creditable 32nd, because he thought he'd have a better shot Sunday. I thought it'd be the other way round though I'm sure Wiggins knows what he's doing... I think. Still not convinced pavé is his thing. There's also the not insignificant matter of Sky having three other leaders in Edvald Boasson Hagen, Bernhard Eisel and Geraint Thomas.

If he can make it to the final 50km unscathed, he says, he'll be in with a shot: "I'll have the legs and the length."

Sir Wiggo will either be there or be nowhere. That's how he rolls. Always.

Bjorn Leukemans (Wanty-Groupe Gobert)

At 36 and with Vancansoleil folding no WorldTour team wanted a piece of him last year, but the guy with a name to match his face (primarily, leuk means funny but can also mean good-looking) is showing there's plenty of life in his legs yet.

Leukemans has finished as high as fourth (2006) and sixth (2010) in Roubaix and was good enough for 16th last year. Even though he finished ninth in Flanders last Sunday he was arguably one of the five strongest in the finale; had he gone with Van Avermaet he may well have been fighting for the win.

Riding for one of seven Pro Continental teams, Leukemans is an underdog rider in an underdog litter. I would love to see him do it.

SBS will broadcast Paris - Roubaix LIVE: 2130-0130 (AEST) Sunday 13 April on SBS ONE and streaming online at Cycling Central from 2100.