With Thor Hushovd's win in 1998, the race began to broaden again as a more international event. Yaroslav Popovych won it in 2001 during his torrid stretch as a U23 on a huge solo breakaway ahead of his two teammates Volodymr Bileka and Lorenzo Bernucci and some two-bit Belgian Tom Boonen. Sergey Lagutin won the 2003 edition after the original winner Peter Schockaert, who beat Lagutin in a 4-up sprint, got popped for doping. Rabobank Continental went on a huge stretch of success by winning the 2004 (Koen de Kort), 2005 (Dmitry Kozontchuk), 2006 (Tom Veelers) and 2008 (Coen Vermeltfoort) editions, with their 5-peat only broken by Damien Gaudin aka Stomp in 2007.
Taylor Phinney took back to back victories in 2009 and 2010, both in small group sprint, but the race was on the brink for 2011. Rising police costs were going to blow the budget and the race was canned at first but brought back for another rousing edition, which saw Ramon Sinkledam (now Argos-Shimano) take the win ahead of Jasper Stuyven (now Trek). 2012 saw Bob Jungels go on a rampage and just napalm the field; 2nd place was Yves Lampaert at 2 minutes and 49 seconds. And that was it. The race struggled from scheduling conflicts with other DN1 races in France as well as a big Coupe de France race, which drew away the French teams from the Hell. The Americans and Belgians were furious but even French riders Felix Pouilly and Florian Senechal created a small campaign to try and save the race from extinction. Thanks to some good complaining, financial stimulus and a little bit of calendar adjustment, the race is now back for 2014 and will be as hard as ever. To the course we go...
The race kicks off from Peronne in the Somme region, quite close to where the great battle took place in World War 1, before taking off north towards Roubaix. The first sector of cobbles at Troisville doesn't come in until 48 kilometers but they are not an easy section by any means and riders will have to escape the nasty 2nd part, which usually includes some type of mud. The race continues to follow the traditional race route for the pros and takes in the sections at Viesly, Quievy and Saint-Python. The race has a bit of a lull before taking in a new section at Avesnes-Le-Sec. The pave at Avesnes-Le-Sec has undergone renovation by the Association Amis Paris-Roubaix and will be fresh when the U23s go over its 2600 meters of bouncy goodness.
The secteur pavé d'Avesnes getting a makeover in prep for Paris-Roubaix Espoirs on June 1 #PRespoirs via @tgouvenou pic.twitter.com/U7NiwFCmqN
The route once again joins the pro route to take in sections like Warlaing, Beuvry, Auchy-les-Orchies and Mons-en-Pevele, which has been in the pro race since 1978 and is rated a 5-star difficulty as it features multiple turns and up and down terrain. Mons-en-Pevele really signals the finale as the ending is with 50 kilometers to go and the remaining 8 sectors.
— Jonathan Lovelock (@Jono_L) May 26, 2014
The next 25 kilometers will go by like that and before they know it, the racers will be on the Cysoing sector (also known as the Duclos-Lasalle sector), which will feature a few up and downs and a bad middle section that has deteriorated over time. Camphin-en-Pevele will serve as a warm-up for the vaunted Carrefour de l'Arbe sector, which comes just 17 kilometers from the line. 2000 meters of some of the worst pave northern France has to offer. The section just before the famed Cafe de l'Arbe is like the Germans just decided to drop cobbles all over Northern France in WWII because of how messy the pave is laid for that little bit.
Once through the Carrefour de l'Arbe sector, any remaining groups should be able to stay together for the final 15 kilometers, which include 3 sectors of fairly tame cobbles. The question really is how big any groups left will be and if any of them will have the numbers to pull off a move ala Terpstra this year or just sit and wait for a sprint.
— Niko eeckhout (@eeckhoutniko) May 28, 2014
Directvelo has a full startlist for Sunday's race and here is the link to the race website for further information. There is a lot left to be desired in their website...
Here are some names to watch for on Sunday...
Mike Teunissen (Rabobank Development)
Xandro Meurisse and Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Belisol U23)
Dieter Bouvry and Daan Myngheer (EFC-OPQS)
Stefan Küng and Ignazio Moser (BMC Development)
Nathan Vanhooydonck, Tanner Putt and Ruben Zepuntke (Bissell)
Anthony Turgis (CC Nogent-sur-Oise)
Thomas Boudat and Lilian Calmejane (Vendée U)
Owain Doull and Ryan Mullen (AnPost-ChainReaction)
Jenthe Biermans and Frederik Ludvigsson (Giant-Shimano)
Justin Oien and Eamon Lucas-Franck (USA National)
Until then, stayed tuned to here or @Vlaanderen90 on twitter for updates.