"Of course I'm not wishing any bad luck on Tom Boonen, but Paris-Roubaix is a course, more than any other race, where you can't have any bad luck where you need constant concentration, and if he's missing anything or just gets exhausted there are about half a dozen great riders capable of winning this edition," said Leblanc, the former director of the Tour de France.
Leblanc went on to list Leif Hoste and George Hincapie, the two Discovery riders who finished second and third to Boonen in his Tour of Flanders victory on Sunday, as those capable of preventing the world champion from completing yet another double.
Boonen did not have the Arenberg trench to contend with when he won last year's race, however, and after the restoration of the most notorious part of the course, the 2400 cobbled-metres through the Arenberg forest will be on this Sunday's bill of 27 cobbled sectors.
Tour of Turkey
Cavendish claims stage hat-trick at Tour of Turkey after huge crash
France's North regional council contributed 220,000 euros over the winter to fix the trench and get it ready for a reappearance this year after it was left out of the 2005 edition.
"It's not less difficult, it's less dangerous and that was our objective," said Leblanc.
The restoration included drainage of the low parts of the trenches, and removal of several trees, which Leblanc said had "caused many crashes," thanks to leaves, moss, and branches.
CYCLING 2006 Paris-Roubaix Arenberg Trench
Image credit: Imago
The 40-year-veteran of Paris-Roubaix, making his last appearance in an official capacity, said that the restoration was necessary due course deterioration beyond the limits of safety.
"There was slipping, there were accidents, for us there was an obsession, and today we feel that that it's still of course difficult, but there is no longer an obsession with crashes," Leblanc said.
After visiting the trench himself, however, Cofidis rider Thierry Marichal told the Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure that most riders were still afraid of the Arenberg.
"Nothing has changed, they've just put a bit of sand at the entrance, filled the ditch 50 metres from the start, and installed a nice stone-paved sidewalk for the spectators" the Frenchman said. "Out of 100 riders 80 are scared stiff, paralysed on their bikes, and that's how you fall."
Battered, bruised and happy
This year's event Director Jean-François Pescheux said that the return of the Arenberg brings back a critical route, where in the past legends have lost the race.
"Historically, it's always been a mythical point," said Pescheux. "The toughest guys have lost Paris-Roubaix on the Arenberg trench, so it's a critical moment for the course."
In 1998 Johan Museuuw took a terrible crash in the Arenberg forest, which split his kneecaps, turned gangrenous, and nearly cost the "Lion of Flanders" his career.
Of course only two years later he came back to claim his second of three Paris-Roubaix victories and tame the Arenberg.
"It's a critical passage, 2,500 difficult metres, Arenberg is where the course ends for some, and begins for the real leaders," he said. "You need to leave the trench in strong position to have a chance at winning Paris-Roubaix, so it's a critical pass-point for the riders."
Pescheux described the beauty of the race, known as "The Queen of Classics," in its ability to test riders to the limits of their physical potential.
"The joy of organisers is to go into the showers that night after the race has finished, and to see that the riders are battered, and bruised, but happy."
CYCLING, 104ma Parigi-Roubaix
Image credit: Eurosport
"Excited and a little bit nervous" - Jakobsen ahead of cycling return
Tirreno - Adriatico
Alaphilippe takes Stage 2 after stunning finish at Tirreno-Adriatico