Paris-Roubaix Preview

Paris Roubaix 2017 podium

The best for last as the cobbled classics come to an end this Sunday in the Roubaix velodrome. Former race director Jacques Goddet described this race as “the last act of madness” and his decision to use tiny farm tracks with rudimentary cobbles has created a legendary and exceptional event.

Once again it’s everyone against Quick Step with the star riders caught in a collective tactical trap, they must combine against the Belgian team to win but start working and their rivals will sit tight and beat them in the finish. It’s live on TV from start to finish.

The Route
After the “Three Days of De Panne”, “Gent”-Wevelgem and the “E3” Harelbeke, another mislabelled race because the start is well outside of Paris. But that’s no bad thing as it allows the race to zig and zag across the cobbles closer to the finish. Starting in Compiègne it’s 257km across the north of France. There’s almost 100km to cover before the first pavé and these roads count, they’re more up and down than you might think. Then come the cobble sectors, all 29 of them with varying difficulties.

The four and five star sections (4* DIY highlighting in yellow above, 5* in gold) really are unlike anything else. The Flemish classics use plenty of cobbled roads, often lined with houses where ordinary family cars are parked in the driveways and they’re frequently used by cyclists. For Paris-Roubaix the tracks are hardly used and when they are it’s often a farmer on a tractors or motocross bikes. All race motos on Sunday have to be the off-road variety and many teams fit protection to their vehicles to help cope with the expected damage. What makes it so bad? The cobble stones are bigger, they’re often set badly and can be spaced far apart with angular edges jutting up towards a wheel which means bicycle wheels have a much harder time. The higher the rating, the more nervous the approach too, the race has a rhythm where the pace accelerates to wild levels before the key sectors and then backs off once the sector is done as riders survey the damage.

As much as we focus on the pavé they account for only 55km of the course, about 20% of the route and the four and five star sections account for 10%. Therefore 90% of the race is conducted on perfectly ridable roads. A move can go any time and it’s accumulated fatigue that makes the cobbles so tiring, whether the high stress approach to the sector where riders fight for position or the moment after when riders are surveying the damage.

  • Watch out for the level crossings, the race crosses an industrial region and the crossroads between France and Belgium meaning a lot of rail tracks and 10 level crossings (one tram, one disused) so a reminder of the new rules: if the lights flash or bells ring then the crossing is deemed closed and riders who venture across the tracks are supposed to be disqualified and risk a fine and up to a month’s suspension.

The Finish: Held in the old velodrome, riders enter the 500m concrete track for one and half laps. The banking can be exploited by a rider lucid enough to remember how to sprint on a track.

The Contenders
Embed from Getty Images

Quick Step are dominating the classics but it’s not too boring because there’s variety and in order to win they make the race as hard as possible in order to reduce the front group to as few rivals as possible. Picking a rider for this Sunday is a mix of form and luck, for example Yves Lampaert hasn’t looked as strong as Philippe Gilbert, Niki Terpstra or Zdeněk Štybar this spring but if he moves and there’s hesitation then he could ride away with it. Still the other three names seem more reassuring picks. Gilbert is in great shape and Roubaix’s been his target and readers will be familiar now with the idea that the older he gets the less he can accelerate but he can go on long raids, exemplified by his win in the Ronde last year. Terpstra hardly needs an introduction, the wolfpack’s lone wolf could and probably has to go solo to win and with his low tuck is very hard to bring back once he’s got 20 metres. Maybe it’ll be Štybar’s turn, he’s persistent and shines brigher in this event but hasn’t been the team’s most convincing option this spring.

Peter Sagan been complaining that everyone’s marking him but what else does he expect? Nobody wants to contest a sprint with him and with his bulky build and his rainbow livery he can hardly slip away unnoticed either. Bora-Hansgrohe may need to be more creative tactically to unpick Quick Step but who wants to experiment in the last cobbled classic of the season? Maybe Daniel Oss can be played as a second card rather than a workhorse? Sagan though is still a strong pick given his sprint and current form.

Greg Van Avermaet is more suited to the Ronde than Roubaix and if he hasn’t looked as incisive this spring as he did last year it’s only because he’s being held to high standards he set last year. Third in Harelbeke and fifth last week means he’s only one opportunity away from a win this spring and the warmer weather for Sunday suits him. Jürgen Roelandts could pop up too while Jempy Drucker and Stefan Kung are likely helpers but could be in the mix until late.

Sep Vanmarcke can keep trying but how to win? He’d need to be part of a small group which then turns into a war of attrition so that they all arrive into Roubaix punch-drunk by the distance and the pavé and hope the sprint goes his way. When it comes to the cobbles his seated accelerations are hard to match but they’re often telegraphed. EF Education First-Drapac have wilier options with Matti Breschel and Sebastian Langeveld.

Ag2r La Mondiale also bring a strong team to support Oliver Naesen with Silvan Dillier back after breaking his finger in the Strade Bianche but likely missing some depth because of this. Like Vanmarcke the question is how does Naesen win, he’d need a tough race and for the sprint to become a test of character.

Mads Pedersen was great in the Ronde, a podium finish was a huge result but it was the method that impressed, going up the road for so long and then almost matching Terpstra in the finale while holding off the chase from behind to finish second. Even if the riders behind were bickering at times the young Dane showed huge resistance late into a long race. He won the junior edition of this race which ought to count although so far no junior winner has yet won this version. Jasper Stuyven (pictured) is a contender and his big build and powerful style are perfect for the course. John Degenkolbis still in the game and if some say the German isn’t the same after the terrible accident of 2016 but he had several top-10s in the classics last year to prove the comeback, he just seems off the pace this year.

Team Sky have Gianni Moscon in good form after he made the front group last year and impressed the previous year too. Ian Stannard has been targeting this race but so far his best result is 79th in Dwars Door Vlaanderen so maybe 25 year old Dylan Van Baarle is a protected rider, he’s one of those riders who could win Paris-Roubaix one day. The most interesting rider is Geraint Thomas who has come down off Mount Teide for this and has been quietly aiming for the race.

Is Paris-Roubaix a cyclo-cross event? No and there’s only so much crossover for Wout van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan). Yes he will be more at ease when it comes to hopping over particular stones or negotiating off-camber bends and these things help but only get him so far. Fortunately we’ve seen he’s proven adept in races longer than 200km too, we seen a good van Aert but no masterpiece so far. Again how to win, it’s hard to imagine him soloing away? He’s a quick finisher but keeping calm and working out the velodrome tactics means he’s harder to pick than a Sagan or Van Avermaet.

Arnaud Démare has had two podiums so far and finds another race more suited to his bulk. He wins sprints but he’s more than a sprinter, capable of repeated long efforts which is ideal for this course. Who’d want to go to the finish with him? He won the bunch sprint last year for sixth place and you never know, what chance the race ends in a sprint? It sounds unthinkable but it’s been close of late.

Alexander Kristoff is another sprinter who’s more than a sprinter but Paris-Roubaix has never really smiled at him and the Norwegian is having a hard time in the classics this year. Sven Bystrøm is good in support and Filippo Ganna might win this race one day but he’s 21 and still riding the track a lot which explains plenty of his DNF’s this spring.

Some more names starting with the obligatory mention of Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) who can still pop up and win big. Sunweb’s Mike Teunissen has hit some good form but a win would be a huge upset. The smokey pick is Christophe Laporte of Cofidis, he’s an ex-mountain biker and has got some results in the classics already and packs a potent sprint but a podium would be huge. Tony Martin turns 33 this month and if the results are drying up the experience is accumulating but precisely because of his reputation nobody can let him go.

Finally never forget the surprise rider. Paris-Roubaix is a lottery, no story of the winner is complete without a story of the losers along the way, the riders in contention who puncture or crash out of the race. Similarly a rider can get the lucky break of a lifetime, a domestique famous for their ability to pull on the front can suddenly find they’re left to themselves and riding to their biggest win, think Mat Hayman or Johan Vansummeren in recent years. Who could do it in 2018? Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie) has the experience and still the raw power and team mate Adrien Petit is a local with a dream and Damien Gaudin thrives in this race. Gregory Rast (Trek-Segafredo) and Lotto-Soudal pair Lars Bak and Marcel Sieberg come to mind or maybe it’ll be Christmas for Borut Božič (Bahrain-Merida)?

Philippe Gilbert, Niki Terpstra
Zdeněk Štybar, Peter Sagan, GVA
Arnaud Démare, Jasper Stuyven, Sep Vanmarcke
Oliver Naesen, Geraint Thomas, Gianni Moscon, WVA, Yves Lampaert
Boasson Hagen, Van Baarle, Pedersen, Kristoff, Langeveld

Weather: the forecast keeps changing but the latest says roads it’ll be dry and could reach 20°C, very warm compared to every classic so far.

Paris Roubaix TV

TV: it’s live from start to finish. Should you watch it all? Why not, it’s the least you can do given the riders are out there racing all the time. The processional start is at 11.00 CEST and KM0 is at 11.20 with the finish expected around 5.30pm.

Roubaix TV Photo credit: Thomas Sweertvaeger from the Belgian book “Supporters Leven Voor de Koers

72 thoughts on “Paris-Roubaix Preview”

  1. What has happened to Ian Stannard of late. He showed so much promise a few years ago and has the perfect qualities for this race.

    • Sam G. Stannard has been raced very heavily. Full Classics season followed as an engine on flatter sections of Grand Tours. I don’t actually know the real answer, but would speculate that the use of large gears and too much racing may have ‘burnt him out’ to some extent.

      I hope my unfounded speculation is wide of the mark, as he is still relatively young.

      • I agree, I think he’s a little burnt out at the moment. I think if G and Ian Stannard wanted to win a major classic they’d need to leave Sky for more freedom away from GTs

        I think Geraint Thomas (G) if he put on some weight again could win P-R. He won the junior version many years ago!

        • It was Geraint Thomas who CHOSE to focus on grand tours instead of one dayers, whilst many Internet commentators said he was making the wrong choice. As for Stannard, you can’t win them all. An Omloop double and a Roubaix podium are fair return for his ability so far.

  2. As big a fan of Gilbert as I am, giving 5 star favourite status to a man who hasn’t competed in such a specialised race for 11 years (and then only once) seems a bit generous. He’s on the right team to do it I suppose. I reckon if anyone will sneak off for Quick Step and win this one it’ll be Stybar. I’ve got a feeling that the stick Sagan has got this week off Quick Step alumni will come back to bite them in the bum. As ex Liverpool manager Bob Paisley used to say about opposition teams ‘don’t give them any toffee’. As in don’t say anything that will give them any extra reason to beat you than they already have.

    I just want it to be wet. The photos of the recons look pretty muddy but its going to be warm and sunny between now and the race I believe. Its weird to think that the route of this race could have been picked up and plonked somewhere in North Africa for the last 15 odd years and there would have been no discernible difference in conditions!

    • As Phil and Niki will be heavily marked this time and Lampaert is maybe still a bit too junior my bet is also on Styby, twice on the podium in the last three editions isn’t it? He maybe doesn’t really have the results to show for but he was a strong presence in all of the races a team-mate won and if a bit of that mud sticks to pavé in the more shadowed corners of the race, his cyclocross skills might give him the edge over some other contenders. QS descend to compiègne with exactly the same team as last sunday so expect a fierce tempo on that first one hundred rolling kms and beaucoup de jambes fatigués on the first stretches of pavé.

    • Sagan has been relatively poor in PR over his career, especially compared to the Belgian classics. PR just seems much more about luck, like a Grand National (a horse race over fences) where you are just hoping to get to the end without falling. A minute lost here for dumb reasons, basically just chance, might never be caught back.

      • Although your saying Paris-Roubaix is about luck, and I’m not necessarily disagreeing with you, Boonen and Cancellara won it 7 times between them. So there must be a little more to it than that.

        • Yes, there’s more. Such as always being at the front. Fortune favours the brave or, more simply, less bad things can happen to you at the front than in the peloton. Everyone remember Cancellara going down and Sagan having to hurdle his prone bike. A crash you are behind in this race can be the end of your race because in this race of all races no one is waiting.

        • Yeah, two of the best cobbles riders *ever* won it 7 times… and lost it 19 times.

          Which is still no less than mind-boggling and beyond excellent (with such a ratio, Sagan would have already won a couple of ’em), but that shows you how unpredictable is the whole thing. The last Roubaix hero before Boonen, that is, Museeuw, won it 3 times out of 15 participations. Franco Ballerini, called by the French themselves “Monsieur Roubaix” had to start it 13 times to win it “just” twice.

          Some of the best specialist of this generation and the previous one just never won it… Wesemann: 50% of the times he was at the start, he ended up getting a top-ten (including in the stat his early DNFs!), he just got 2 podia, no victory.
          Ballan got a podium half of the times he finished the race (he just DNFed his very first one) – never won.
          Flecha, a pavé monster, one of the most underrated riders ever, raced 11 Roubaix and got… 6 top-five! (among which 3 podia). His top-tens are 8/11 and the three worst results are 12th, 13th, 25th. Never won it.

          Then, you have the Knaven of this world, racing 16 times, out of the first 30 most of the times (sometimes working for others, surely), and just 2 top-tens… one of which is a victory.
          More or less the same goes for O’Grady or Hayman, solid riders who raced 14-16 times, usually struggling to make the line among the first 20-25 riders, with a lucky top-ten or two at best, who get their – however deserved – lucky strike.
          (the likes of Vansummeren or Bäckstedt are a slightly different story because you can see they’ve got a more decent ratio of top-tens, but they’re still way far from being “regular contenders”).

          In the last 20 years, Parix-Roubaix was won *SIX* times by riders who really didn’t have at all a high-level profile as Classics contenders.
          Compare that with Sanremo, with just 2-3 (depending on what Démare will do in the future) low-profile winners in the same period of time or Flanders with 1-2 (Devolder and… Nuyens?).

          That’s a race dominated by luck, many of the best can’t even win it and nearly 1/3 times some Mr. Nobody gets his – feel assured, hugely deserved (no irony here) – once-in-a-career award.

  3. I’ve been wittering on for weeks now that Arnaud Démare would win this weekend. Guess it would be wrong not to stick with him. Hoping Trek Segafredo have a good race to Ryan Mullen been going well and riding in support of Jasper Stuyven could see him at least make the podium. I wonder how many times you have written those remarks about Sep VM poor kid!!!

  4. QS are surely going to go for Gilbert – or at least I’m sure that will be his view – as he’s played a supporting role in the season thus far. I’m not convinced that he’ll be strong enough on flat pave, though.
    However, I do think a QS rider will win (another will attack if Gilbert cannot/does not), because the leaders of the other teams refuse to work together whenever there is a QS rider to chase, and that seems to be necessary to challenge such a strong team.
    And they’re all as bad as each other: in virtually every big race that QS have won this spring, their opponents have refused to take their turns on the front to pull back a QS break.
    That’s why QS keep winning from relatively long distances.
    The others have to pull those attacks back, then stop working together.

  5. Nothing has convinced me that Phil Gil is not behind other riders in the pecking order. It’s a bit like Boonen’s last season – the expectation was that he would monster a win, but the legs weren’t there (and Cancellara too for that matter).

    That said QS are the many headed hydra and it’s their strength in depth which lends to this comparison, mark one rider and another will rise to win – hence Terpstra’s victory.

    Anyone following cyclocosm’s HTRWW series will have seen how QS repeatedly took the wind out of the chasing bunch by coming to the front and then soft-pedalling.

    Anyway I feel that a selection will he made and that Sagan will come good.

    • ‘QS repeatedly took the wind out of the chasing bunch by coming to the front and then soft-pedalling.’ – Yes, so the others have to go around them and pedal hard. And when they’re finished their turn, push back in front of them instead of going right to the back of the group.

      I.e. shove them to the back. They then have to pedal hard if they want to get back to the front of the group, so they’ll probably take it easy at the back. And if they do come to the front, you repeat. QS coming to the front does not excuse the others’ lack of work. It does mean that they’ll have an easier time of it, of course, but that’s always the way if you have a rider up ahead.

      • The thing about Sagan; He’s a marked man yet often finds a way, figures it out and comes out on top. -& now He’s pissed.

        • Not sure being pissed makes you win. They’re still not going to help him. They’d still rather lose than take him to the finish. Sagan’s best finish in PR is 6th and he wasn’t in the front group (because Niki Terpstra chipped off the front and no one chased). In fact, he’s never been in the front group approaching the velodrome. I can’t see him winning but I can’t see him as capable of a Cancellara or Boonen-like performance. And that’s what it takes.

          • Well, apparently being pissed sometimes helps. He should send a thank you card to Boonen. But I think they already did it mutually with some tweets.
            Did Sagan actually attack right where Tom did in 2012? ^__^

  6. I’m totally behind Geraint T for the win — it would be excellent! I’ve missed him in the classics this year..

    No mention of Luke Rowe?

    • Rowe not in condition to win. If he’s on start line you know he’s going to put in a beast of a ride in service to the team… his leg still not in condition to help him win.

      He’s a stud.

      Geraint T on the other hand is most underrated guy in 2018. I think he’s more motivated than ever to put up some huge results.

      • If Thomas is allowed to ride for himself (ie. Froome salbutamol case) in the Tour, then he’s easily tops of the GC men after stage 9. (Nibali and Valverde next)

      • I’d say when you put his palmares against how much he’s spoken about, Thomas is one of the most overrated riders.
        Zero Monument top fives.
        Zero Grand Tour top tens.
        He’s 32 in a month.
        And yet people talk about him like he’s the second coming.

          • To be fair to Thomas, I don’t think he’s ever claimed to be better than he is. And in his defence, he’s won a bigger classic than Vanmarcke (E3 > Het Volk) and a number of other favourites (what’s Stybar won?). I think it’s a big shame he hasn’t concentrated on classics ahead of the track and now GC over the years but his sack full of gold medals is hard to argue with. Ask team owners and physiology specialists and they will tell you he’s as right up there when it comes to raw talent.

            I suspect he’ll lack the punch on Sunday when needed (or the bike handling skills – a major flaw) but I really wish him well as he seems such a straightforward chap.

            Van Kersbruck has looked handy as has Haussler. I wonder if they are “second stringer/ threatening break” contenders. Orica Scott’s squad isn’t too shabby either.

            I’m very surprised Mr INRNG has not deemed Demare worthy of even 1 chainring. I think he’ll go to 5 at least without bad luck.

          • I certainly wasn’t criticising Thomas – he’s a superb rider and I’d agree with your summation of his career and his chances today. What I disagree with are the opinions of those who suggest he is one of the favourites this year to win both this and a grand tour. His classics results put him amongst many others and he is, at best, unproven in GTs – he’s never shown himself to be a climber on a par with likes of Landa, but then he is a far better TT’er.
            Štybar, for instance, has two 2nd places in this race.
            I think for some Thomas is so favoured because he seems like a nice bloke, but the reality of that is also a complete unknown and irrelevant to his actual prospects. That and the fact that other top British riders now have tainted reputations means that Thomas has become the great British hope for many.
            Démare has 3 stars chainrings above.

          • Oops! Sorry for missing the Demare 3 rings! Bang on Mr INRNG.

            Since you mention Landa, Pais Vasco has been awesome this year. Every stage has been great. Could be fireworks tonight. Roglic looks so strong and could podium in a grand tour this year if he can get a half decent team in support.

    • He says he’s riding for the experience ahead of the Tour de France but we’ll see. Normally though when riders come off altitude training camps it takes a while to get going, they can feel blocked for the first race at sea level.

  7. Heart says Sep but that won’t happen. Phil G has done a lot for his QS mates so far this spring season so now, Phil with full backup to get the monument he does not have. But if the legs are not there, Stybar. The podium: Phil G, Stybar and Stuyvens.

    • I get the feeling that the QS riders don’t think that way. I can’t imagine that thought passing Niki Terpstra’s head, for instance.

  8. “we see’ve a good van Aert but no masterpiece so far”


    PS for non-Dutch speakers ‘Aert’ is pronounced ‘art’.

  9. I think Sieberg is a good call for the lucky outsider. His ability to sustain high speeds for a long time + his Handling abilities makes this Kind of race the most Fitting for him . And Lotto has no real leader this year, so why Not try to get lucky.

  10. Three or four Paris-Roubaix previews ago, I picked up “Germinal” by Emile Zola as recommended by Inrng. If you haven’t read it (and you read this blog), then do so; it’s good historical fiction that sets the scene in northern France and it’s a good read even if you’ve already ridden all of those cobbles.

    I never comment here — or anywhere I guess — but as long as I’ve got this box open, it’s hard not to pick a Quick Step rider; if I had to pick I’d say Terpstra.

    But the best editions of Paris-Roubaix, which inevitably are the best pro cycling moments of the decade, are the editions won by racers nobody picked: Van Summeren, covered in dust, proposing to his girlfriend, or Hayman, back after recovering from a broken collerbone, unable to believe that he’d beaten Boonen to the line. So I’ll be rooting for Chavanel or Petit or anyone from Direct Energie.

    Excellent preview, as always, Mr. or Ms. Inrng. I love this site.

  11. Very difficult to predict the result of the most unpredictable Monument, but what the heck… If they have a trouble-free ride unhindered by punctures, crashes and/or mechanicals then any one of dozens can win. I prefer the chances of those who can win in spite of a little bad luck, as GVA did last year. Statistically luck could also rule out one or two of the Quick Step ruling class, meaning less disruption of any chase of one of their number. Sagan is certainly capable of winning, but to me his involvement in the finale last week was almost as disruptive as any Quickstepper in the chase of Terpstra – nothing like a demonstration of strength alongside waving and carrying on to slow collective momentum. That he couldn’t close the gap to Pedersen, much less Terpstra, indicates to me a lack of strength this time.

    On that basis, Naeson to win from Vanmarcke, with Kristoff to complete the podium. If the sectors dry out Gilbert into the mix, and Luke Rowe as my outsider for top three…

  12. Unpopular comment maybe but I don’t fancy Sagan at all and for me there is no evidence he could ever win P-R. I also think that he is stagnating for a while and he had another under-par spring campaign. I agree with Boonen’s comment that Sagan always complains about other riders not contributing but that’s the same he always does. One nudge on the Paterberg was all he did during the whole spring campaign. He was invisible in Strade, was dropped in Harelbeke and didn’t do anything in G-W except sprinting for the win. A few weeks ago the GCN show asked whether he was all hype and although this question seemed odd to me at the time, I must agree that for the “best rider of a generation” his results, particularly in the momuments, are slightly underwhelming. I don’t like his image and the way sponsorship took over the sporting side (ski goggles on the podium the most blatant picture – what the heck is that supposed to mean?!). I also think that he should try to change his racing schedule. All of his seasons follow the same pattern with TDU, Tirreno, the Classics, California, TdS, TdF, Canada and the Worlds. I think this also contributes to the stagnation I have mentioned. But then again this is down to sponsorship, particularly his participation in California, where even a granfondo of his name was introduced. From a sporting perspective there is nothing he can gain from racing there, but I guess pecunia non olet…

    • I agree ! He has a palmarès which most people would kill for and it is true that his three world championships are exceptional but for all that is said about him, he has only got one monument. With all the hype, I would expect to have at least 5 and at least 1 Paris-Roubaix, and 1 Milan-San Remo.
      The truth is, he is capable of winning pretty much any race he enters and yes, people league up against him but they also did that against Cancellera and he still found a way of winning. For me, he still has a lot to prove before he is the rider of his generation and worth all the hype. Right now, the rider of this generation is Nibali.

      • Cancellara complained a lot just as Sagan does, and “the way he found” to win some more races when he really started to be raced against actually was… finding somebody who didn’t race against him and who, on the contrary, even gave the victory away: remember Vanmarcke in Roubaix 2013? (well, Cancellara pretty much bullied him into cooperating that time). Same goes for Flanders 2014. Cancellara’s masterpiece in terms of sheer strength *while being the top favourite* is essentially Flanders 2013, which is quite similar to Sagan’s in 2016.

        Sanremo aside – but that’s about the nature of the race, not about a single rider – , during his whole career Cancellara really suffered because of negative racing *only in 2011*, after he had done an impressive double the year before (and we all remember Boonen sharing work with him in Flanders 2010).
        Which makes sense, given that before the 2010 season he didn’t look even close to being a Flanders contender, and at Roubaix he looked like a consistent performer and precocious winner, but his status wasn’t hugely different from that of Flecha, Hushovd or Ballan. *The man* was obviously Boonen.
        Let me add, however, that it makes much more sense to apply negative racing to a fast rider, like Sagan or Boonen, than to Cancellara; though, the way the Swiss won his last two Monuments still amazes me because of the rivals’ generosity.

        In fact, if you compare Cancellara and Sagan’s career, it’s easy to see what Peter’s main problem is (and it’s been like this for several years now): the latter is being looked up as a favourite in most races he enter since he was 24-25 or so, while Cancellara was 28-29 when he became something more than a TT monstre with a talent which allowed him to grab some Classics.

        …anyway, I’d agree about Nibali 😀

        • I would also agree on Nibali too…. if only his GT wins hadn’t been so soft. But you can only beat who is there. Nibali, without doubt, has the widest skill set.

          • If it happens once, it’s called luck. If it happens twice, it might be coincidence. But being so lucky that you’re gifted with a soft race 4 (or 5) times in a ten years GT career starts to look like a pattern.

            While, obviously, beating neopros and old guns who never won a GT is a huge feat… that’s not a soft win!

            A bit like… aging Purito or Urán are great rivals for Froome, but they were not relevant when Nibali won a GT over them (surely the Colombian must be more dangerous racing with Vaughters than he was when leading Team Sky, you know?).
            And what about Valverde? In Froome’s best GT ever (TdF 2015), he was on the podium and a key factor. But you can’t trust Nibali beating him straight the following year at the Giro.
            Froome beat Contador? Sure, when the Spaniard was in modest conditions. Nibali might soon say the same about the 2017 Vuelta.

            You can be lucky at the Roubaix, maybe in *one GT* (if you’re *very* lucky), if you win 4-5 of them it’s not by pure chance.

      • Think it’s quite hard to seperate Sagan, Nibali, Valverde and Froome… they’re all pretty impressive… my feeling is Nibali would come close to swapping his palmares for 4 Tours, Valverde might swap everything for a few Tours and Sagan regularly cycles with the entire Peloton against him… for me he, by the end of his career, could be the most impressive rider not to win (be able to win) a Grand Tour. But the TdeF is always the Everest of cycling – who do we remember more Lemond or De Vlaeminck? Hard to say if that’s the best comparison as to who will be better remembered from Froome and Sagan. I think we were just lucky to see them race together in that break a few years back. It’s been a special few years with Cancellara vs Boonen and now Sagan, Nibali and Froome. I’ve enjoyed watching it all a lot. Although I think the comment above re Sagan never winning P-R is utter madness… we’re talking about on of the best ever here…

        • De Vlaeminck?! “Forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re writing…” 😉
          You’re joking, aren’t you?

          Obviously, to most cycling fans De Vlaeminck is more relevant than Lemond. They’re actually on different steps of the ladder.

          Let me put it like this: De Vlaeminck *might* enter some all times cycling top tens, depending on the criteria – no hope whatsoever for Lemond (unless the qualifying factor is VO2 max).
          I’m obviously speaking of historical Lemond, not about woulda-coulda with no hunting accident: I’d agree he could have achieved much more, but that’s about alternative universes.

          As I wrote here some time ago, you just need to go back some 10-15 years to find the like of Froome (and less than 25 years ago you would already find somebody who was of his kind but clearly *way* better than him). You need to go back 25-30 years to find the like of Nibali, and it’s not clear if the guys you’d find there really have a better palmarés – they’re all pretty much on par.

          You’ve got a real-life proof regarding what Nibali would do about his palmarés: he focused mainly on the Tour de France only in a minority of his career’s seasons (2 or 3 out of 11, not including neopro years when he didn’t race any GT at all); he preferred to win the Giro first when he was at his best; even recently he gave very evident priority to, say Olympics, and he’s been going seriously into races which TdF-obsessed guys skip being afraid of crashing (Sanremo, Flanders and so on).
          Which means that what you suppose might happen in Nibali’s head is quite different from reality. He always said that one-day races mattered a lot to him, and he showed that on the road, too.

          Whereas, yes, we can be sure that Valverde would give away all his Lièges for a single TdF. But that’s one of the reasons why he isn’t as great as a rider as his physiology would allow him to be.

          • I guess it’s where you sit in the world. Writing from the USA Lemond means quite a lot.

            You’re probably right – that’ll just mean Sagan goes on to become more of a legend than Froome in whatever silly logic there is above, I’m not sure I really care either way, I’m just happy to watch them both in their prime.

            Nibali is excellent and it’s been a pleasure to watch him win, but from what I’ve seen when he competes with Froome 9 times out of ten on a climb, Froome in his prime comes out on top and while classic victories are great, I’d take a Froomedog everyday of the week. (This may partly be because Froome comes across as a nice guy whereas Nibali (whether in translation or not) kinda seems like a bit of douche).

            We’re also still in a post-MSR haze similar to when Froome did the double preSab test, so maybe they’re both just great and impossible to separate?

            Who are your top ten all time riders then Gabs?

            Merckx, Hinault, Coppi, Van Loy, Vlaedeminck, Anquetil, Bartali, Indurain, Kelly, Boonen, Fignon… Lemond’s not that far behind them all is he…

            Really enjoyed Sagan’s win.

          • Putting his failed drug test to the side (for the moment it’s ‘failed’), how many of Froome’s victories have been interesting to watch?
            That, for me, is a very big factor.
            Plus, he’s a one-trick pony.

          • Well, in last Vuelta when you spoke of “final climbs” (not climbs+descents nor short walls), Froome was better than Nibali in 4/6, which is good but quite far from 9/10. And God knows what would have happened on the Angliru if Froome didn’t break the rules, be it to dope or just to illegally improve his health conditions.
            But that’s the least important point. Truth is that cycling isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about sort of a W/kg videogame where generic trump cards scores like “climbing” do matter. Froome is especially strong on monoclimbs, when the effort is shorter than 20′, and when his team kept a low pace on the previous climbs if the stage is complicated. That’s more or less the opposite conditions which would grant Nibali a serious advantage (add to that high altitude).
            For some reasons, in very recent cycling a lot of the above is favouring Froome’s qualities over Nibali’s (have a look at any historical comparison about high altitude mountain passes in races, length of stages, multiple climbs and so on; plus, few teams – better: “no teams” – have the money to control a race as Sky can do to tame attacking racing).
            If Froome had raced some Giro against Nibali we’d know more about his skills, but the guy, until this year (when he got a favourable course, by the way) stayed well away from the races which were less suited to him. And he’s got any right to do so, but people should also notice.
            You had “in his prime” about Froome, of course. Why shouldn’t we add that to Nibali? You’d soon notice that, under such a condition, they didn’t seriously face each other that often, perhaps in three or four stage races.

            Froome, anyway, is a specialised specialist… not just stage races, the GTs – and especially one of them (even if the Vuelta supposedly fits him very much). He’s great climbing, but especially under specific conditions… and he really showed how great his climbing skills were perhaps half a dozen times in his whole career.
            That’s too significant a limit in a “cycling as a whole” perspective.

          • Totally agree Gabriele on the parcours of grand tours these days – inexplicable when it helps to produce such dull racing.

          • @DAVE
            Sorry, I didn’t notice you asked about an all time top-ten. You name some excellent candidates and I’d share your POV about that, but, even without thinking much about it (I’m surely forgetting something big as it happened to you), I’d add Gimondi, Bobet, Binda, all of them clearly above LeMond (while I’d put Fignon very near to LeMond).

            Van Steenbergen, Pélissier are there or thereabouts, too.
            Contador should be weighed appropriately and might eventually match LeMond (he’d be outside the top ten, anyway); personally, I’d tend to prefer LeMond anyway, because at least he podiumed in several Monuments, but Contador had a wider set of creative racing styles (and wins) in GTs. They’re very close. Very different reasons, but same “zone” for Moser.
            Freddy Maertens is a peculiar case, his palmarés in mere terms of GT or Monuments victories doesn’t tell the truth about him, not even by far.
            And Nibali ^__^

            In short, I can easily see at least a dozen of riders who are above LeMond, no doubt (which might be enough to mean that he’ll hardly ever make that top ten), and some other seven or eight riders who could be more or less on LeMond’s level (with different sets of skills, maybe). That will safely place LeMond among the 20 best ever, but it also implies that he could or should be pushed further away from the top ten.

            (and sorry everybody for the huge and mostly meaningless OT ^__^)

      • Yep, time to eat some humble pie 🙂 Mighty impressive from Sagan and I didn’t expect it, because as I mentioned there was no evidence this spring that he was capable of winning it in this style. Chapeau! And kudos to Dillier, sensational performance as well!

  13. Quick Step for an almost clean sweep of the cobbles this year. Gilbert or Terpstra are my picks, but which one will depend on chance.
    What am I saying? It will all depend on chance. But I don’t think the rest is going to gang up effectively, and QS has enough guys that can last at the front to wear out the competition with repeated attacks.
    If they end up with a small group at the velodrome, it is interesting to know that Terpstra competes at the track six day in Rotterdam most years. Yet I still don’t think he will win a sprint.

  14. For your experienced old hand with plenty of horsepower who could get in the break and end up staying away how about Devolder…. No? I’ll get my coat.

  15. Haven’t mentioned them above but Stefan Küng is a prototype rider for this race, an 83kg TT rider; Luke Durbridge another TT specialist long shot and his team mate Trentin too for a sprint among a few riders.

  16. Speaking of versatile riders and stage race people starting again to get a taste of the less obvious Monuments…
    Marc Soler made the Paris-Roubaix break with a determined move. That’s an interesting thing to see, these days!
    (another good side effect of the pavé TdF stage, nice call by ASO).

    • For me, Pollit bridging the gap between the peloton and the chasers was an impressive ride (from the also rams) as he did it so late. I think he made top 10.

      I tuned in late in the race, but I understand that he did some good turns on the front when the favourites group was still intact.

      Sagan’s glide off the front was one of the weirdest non-attack attacks I’ve ever seen. It was really that none of the teams reacted – it was as if they couldn’t believe that he was going on his own, 50km out. My initial reaction was, “well, OK, I guess they need to close him down now” and they just didn’t. It was amazing how quickly he bridged the gap and then just helped push it out.

      In hindsight it was really smart to take advantage of a breakaway of no-hopers, who had nothing to lose by helping Sagan as long as they could ride his wheel on the cobbles and give him a break on the flats. Having a puncheur like Sagan to draft on the cobbles is a bit of a dream. And, because the riders behind have to ride the cobbles (really more of a threshold sprint) they struggled to close the gap. It was beautiful to watch.

  17. Has anybody seen Taylor Phinney interview on ES? Is his demeanor some kind of inside joke? It is really puzzling, at least to me.

      • yep, brings me even more pleasuere.

        not sure Gilbert will be getting his 5 monuments, subweb rider appears to burned his matches
        (& San Remo & Roubaix is too difficut in the same year, dont thing Gilbert will ride 2020)…

        pretty sure he (and Nibali) will come again next year though.

  18. Chapeau Sagan – that’s how you win, never mind complaining that others won’t work.
    QS seemed to have forgotten how they won all the other races this season – by working, and not letting others ride away.
    Continuing the working theme, Dillier should have stopped pulling on the front in at least the last 2km. Doubt it would have mattered, though.
    Impressive that the first thing Sagan did was congratulate Dillier.
    And so good to have commentators on Eurosport UK who talk about the race rather than shrieking cliches a la Carlton Kirby, a man who seems to believe that the race is all about himself.

    • Probably they agreed to arrive to the velodrome together (which is quite typical)… Sagan could have dropped Dillier if he had attacked with a little acceleration on Gruson or Hem, given that once it was some ten kms to the line he wasn’t going to benefit much from Dillier’s presence. But the usual gentlemen’s agreement is “I do my share of work, you don’t try to drop me straight, we enter the velodrome together”.

      • Dillier did exactly the right thing. How many of the other breakaway riders made the top ten? (True they were spent, when Dillier wasn’t). But if he had messed around how comfortable would he have been that the chasers wouldn’t cut their lead and then he wouldn’t get a podium.

        He stood a chance of a win by getting to the velodrome in that pair, but he was guaranteed a podium – it’s not like you would have placed any AG2R rider in the top ten otherwise.

        You have to say there was some beautiful magic at work for Sagan in that he was able to gap the group of favourites, and that the break contained a handful of no-hopers with little else to ride for. Had there been a real close rival chances are the break would’ve discintergrated closer to the stadium.

  19. Very sad news coming through tonight of the death of Michael Goolaerts who crashed on an early set of pavé in today’s race. Only 23. RIP

  20. Thanks for your new posting, you’re absolutely right.
    Hard and not the time to celebrate the race given this tragic news.

    RIP Michael Goolaerts

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