World Champions in Paris-Roubaix

Thor Hushovd won the World Championship Road Race in Australia this year with a powerful sprint finish to win from a 20-man group. In doing so he became the first Scandinavian to wear the Rainbow Jersey as champion of the road. He wasted no time in announcing that his major goal for 2011 would be to win Paris-Roubaix as reigning World Champion:

My goal is the classics next year, to try to win Roubaix in the rainbow jersey. That would be a dream for me. It’s an honor for any rider to wear the rainbow jersey for one year, and to win Roubaix would be even better.

Hushovd will be riding for the Garmin-Cervelo team next year. For the past two years, he has juggled classics leader and team sprinter duties with team mate Heinrich Haussler. However, Haussler has also made the move to the Garmin-Cervelo team. Thus, in 2011, Hushovd will now be sharing responsibilities with Haussler again, along with the equally ambitious Tyler Farrar.

Recently, Hushovd has announced that he is shelving his annual goal of winning the Tour de France Green Jersey in order to help his new team mate Farrar win it instead. Hushovd has won the Green Jersey twice before in 2005 and 2009 but could only finish third this year behind both Mark Cavendish and eventual winner Alessandro Petacchi. The Norwegian champion said this about helping Farrar in 2011:

We must go far back in time to find a flat stage where I beat Mark Cavendish. So, I’d rather help Farrar to beat him.

Hushovd’s not wrong. The last time he beat Cavendish in a sprint was Stage 3 of the 2009 Tour of Missouri, when Hushovd won the stage and Cavendish could only manage fifth. However, on that occasion there was a significant rise up until the one-kilometre-to-go banner, followed by a downhill sprint to the line. Hushovd also beat Cavendish in a flat sprint finish in the 2009 Tour of California, however on that occasion Cavendish could perhaps be excused as the conditions were very wet and he became involved in a tussle with a Rock Racing rider and his lead out train lost him. The last time where Hushovd truly beat Cavendish in a no-messing-head-to-head flat sprint finish was the 2007 Tour de France stage to Joigny which Hushovd won and Cavendish could only manage 10th. But this was when Cavendish was still only 22 and before his palmarés burgeoned into one of the most enviable in Tour history. Consequently, Hushovd’s decision to take a step back from confronting Cavendish seems like a wise one.

Thor Hushovd celebrating victory in the 2010 World Road Race

In one of the most talent rich teams ever assembled, Hushovd will be expecting absolute leadership in Paris-Roubaix in return for quashing his Tour de France ambitions. So, if we look back on past results, how likely is it that the new World Champion will win Paris-Roubaix?

Well despite the fact it hasn’t been done since 1981, the stats are actually very encouraging for Hushovd. Well, the stats I could find anyway. I managed to find full results lists for all the finishers in Paris-Roubaix dating back to 1938. However, these lists only included riders who finished and did not provide details of riders who may have started and subsequently abandoned. For instance, did Greg LeMond start and abandon the race in 1984? How about Fausto Coppi in 1954? Or Gerrie Knetemann in 1979? I’m not sure, but here’s a few nuggets of trivia based on what I did find.

Winning Paris-Roubaix as World Champion is a feat which has not been achieved for 30 years but has actually been done on five separate occasions. The most recent to do it was Bernard Hinault in 1981. Before him came Francesco Moser in 1978 and preceded by a young Eddy Merckx in 1968. Finally Rik van Looy managed it to do it twice in a row when he won back to back World Championships in 1960 and 1961, and followed it up with back to back Paris-Roubaix wins in 1961 and 1962.

Since 1939 there have only been 25 current World Champions who have ridden Paris-Roubaix. Taking into account the three year break in the race caused by World War II, that’s only 25 participations in 70 editions by the current World Champions. However, on only two of these 25 occasions did the World Champion finish outside the top 20, when André Darrigade finished a lowly 46th in 1960 and when Stan Ockers ended up in 21st place in 1956.

Bernard Hinault is the last rider to win Paris-Roubaix as World Champion, he did so in 1981.

Perhaps the most remarkable stat to emerge was that of the 25 World Champions to ride the hell of the north, 15 of them actually finished on the podium – Five winners (all mentioned above), five runners up and five third place finishers. The curse of the rainbow jersey seems to be rather neutralised if you ride Paris-Roubaix.

In recent years, (i.e. the past 20), only three World Champions have taken part. Tom Boonen was the last to participate in 2006 when he finished 2nd behind his nemesis from this year, Fabian Cancellara. Although, it must be said, Boonen was only awarded 2nd after Leif Hoste, Peter van Petegem and Vladimir Gusev were all eliminated for ignoring a level crossing. Before Boonen, one of the more obscure World Champions, Romans Vainsteins, managed a third place in 2001 to round out a podium full of Domo-Farm Frites riders, the other two were eventual winner Servais Knaven and Johan Museeuw. The latter is the third rider in recent years to appear on the Paris-Roubaix podium wearing the Rainbow Jersey, he did so by finishing third in 1997 when he was beaten in the final sprint by Frédéric Guesdon and Jo Planckaert.

Tom Boonen and Johan Museeuw are both triple winners in Paris-Roubaix. Thor Hushovd has yet to taste victory in the Queen of Classics, but he has come close. In 2009, it appeared that Boonen, Filippo Pozzato and Hushovd would all reach the velodrome together and sprint it out for the win, but Hushovd crashed with just over 15km to go and soloed home in third place. Last year, he managed one better and came second, but seemed even further away from possible victory as Fabian Cancellara made a mockery of the rest of the competitors.

Hushovd dearly wants to win this race and he may not get a better opportunity. Tom Boonen has been out of sorts since his crash in the Tour of California in May and showed in this year’s race that he’s liable to a lapse in concentration. Boonen may also find himself sharing team leadership duties with cyclo-cross superstar Zdenek Stybar who fancies his chances at the cobbled classics next year, although the Czech rider is currently suffering from knee problems of his own. As for Fabian Cancellara, he has stated that he would love to win Liége-Bastogne-Liége next year. To get up the hills of the Ardennes, Cancellara will have to sacrifice some of his power on the flat, in addition to stretching his form peak further than any other riders with realistic ambitions of winning a cobbled classic (except perhaps Phillipe Gilbert).

While the curse of the Rainbow Jersey certainly has affected some riders over the years, Cadel Evans has proven that the Rainbow Jersey can also act as a catalyst to propel a rider’s career on to another level. If the curse decides to spare Hushovd from injury, he’s well poised to continue Evans’s example of greatly honouring the Rainbow Jersey by winning one of the biggest races in cycling.

Related Articles


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *