With rain currently predicted for Sundays 'Hell of the North' and Fabian Cancellara missing the action thanks to his fall in Flanders, is there anyone who can stop Tom Boonen taking the victory and 'doing the double'? Here is my list of possible contenders, and to be honest, it's looking a little thin on the ground:
Tom Boonen: With a long list of victories to his name already this year, including of course last weeks Tour Of Flanders Boonen will line up at the start of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday as race favourite. Boonen has found similar form to that of his landmark 2005 season but this time around its not just brute power. Boonen has evolved into the perfect classics rider and a thinking mans sprinter. Add to this the influence of his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team, who's dominance was clear for all to see at last weeks Ronde with Boonen, Chavanel and Niki Terpstra all playing vital roles in the final 40km. Boonen can be beaten in a one on one finish, but it will take something special to stop Omega Pharma from controlling the race until the very end.
The Best Of The Rest
Alessandro Ballan: Finishing third last weekend it could have been a different story if Ballan had the tactical nous to shake Boonen off of his wheel. Hindsight will benefit him as he now knows what needs to be done to take Boonen out of the running. Superteam BMC have been riddled with problems and out of form riders this year, they need results and Ballan looks the best placed to get one.
Fillipo Pozzato: Finding fantastic form and hailed as the 'strongest' rider in last weeks Ronde, taking second place Pozzato is probably the best placed rider to remove Boonen's crown. He is in the same boat as Ballan, except he's stronger in a sprint. Pozzatos biggest weakness is his Farnese Vini-Selle Italia team who will be massively outgunned by Omega Pharma and the other big teams.
Juan Antonio Flecha: The Sky rider has shown well in the cobbled classics in previous years and obviously has a strong team behind him, unfortunately for Flecha he comes into this race having previously taken 4 weeks off with a broken hand - He did ride Flanders last week but the Roubaix cobbles will be far more uncomfortable on that hand.
Greg Van Avermaet: Was unsure about listing Avermaet here, like Ballan he is a BMC rider, and BMC need results. At 26 Van Avermaet has been masked a little by the likes of Gilbert and Hushovd taking the limelight but has shown himself to be a promising classics rider and a good sprinter. Seems to have recovered well after a nasty looking fall at Gent-Wevelgem a couple of weeks ago, whether he has the legs for this race is yet to be seen.
Philippe Gilbert: This time last year Pip was coming into the form and season of his life. Probably the best overall rider in last years peloton, like many of BMC's riders he's had a torrid start 2012 for various reasons, his form until now has been way below par, but he looked a little better in the Ronde last week. He likes a hill but Paris-Roubaix doesn't have any. I still wouldn't write him off though
Matt Goss: The Aussie took victory at Milan-San Remo last year but questions remain whether he can go the distance on the cobbles. His legs havn't been what they were at the start of last year, but he still has an outside chance.
Sylvain Chavanel: Looking extremely strong last weekend working alongside team mate Tom Boonen, Chavanel is clearly in good form. he recently took the overall at Three Days of De Panne. If Chavanel finds himself in the breakaway on Sunday and the peloton struggle to bring them back, he would be my favourite to take the win come the finish line.
Thor Hushovd: Like team mate Gilbert, Hushovd has had an awful start to the season and is still struggling with form. He has finished 2nd here before and if he finally comes good he could well be up there again.
Edvald Boasson Hagen: A real outsider but coming into form, he likes the classics but his rides are often hit and miss - the youngster is still learning after all. He likes a bit of a kick-up as per Pip and Sagan and Paris-Roubaix doesn't really have one.
Oscar Freire: he could outsprint Boonen if it came down to it, and he has plenty of experience but I'm not sure Katusha will be able to fight off Omega Pharma and BMC in the race to victory
After that it's anyone's guess - This is the Hell Of The North we are talking about, and nothing is ever straightforward. There is bound to be a few curve balls, and its just as likely that nobody on the above list will win. The real contender is the Cobbles - they can make or break a riders race, and they will. It will take strength, experience and ruthlessness to stay up-right all the way to the finish.