Paris-Roubaix Preview

Full stop, period, point. The cobbled classics season lasts for weeks and every time there’s always the consolation of the next race, if the E3 didn’t work out there’s Gent-Wevelgem and then the Ronde and each race can be used for training, a stepping stone to the next. This time there’s nothing more, reach Roubaix and the game of stones is done for 2019.

The Route
It doesn’t actually start in 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 star (26, 20, 17, 15, 12, 5) and five star (19, 11, 4) rated sections 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, they’re boneshaking but rideable. 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 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

Suddenly Deceuninck-Quickstep don’t look so strong. Zdeněk Štybar and Philippe Gilbert performed below expectations in last Sunday’s Ronde and they’re without rouleur Bob Jungels. But Yves Lampaert is a strong contender, he doesn’t have the explosive force for the bergs but has power for the long cobbled sections and all the parts in between. Štybar and Gilbert could feature too and Kasper Asgreen is a card to play too but who wins in Roubaix on their debut? Local rider Florian Sénéchal wasn’t picked for the Ronde which suggests he’s not in must-have form right now, but he dreams of this race and won his first classic earlier this spring.

Last year’s winner Peter Sagan hasn’t looked his usual, imposing self but he’s still been kopgroep company from Sanremo to Oudenaarde. We’re much less likely to see him soloing away from afar but even if he comes in with a group for the sprint he’s still not looking sharp so isn’t the reassuring pick of the past. Lieutenant Daniel Oss is an outsider for the race but we’ll see if he can play his own card or whether he’s deployed to help Sagan.

Alexander Kristoff is having his best spring since 2015. On paper he’s a rider with big stamina suited to a flat course and a powerful finish, ideal for Paris-Roubaix but paper crumples quickly on the cobbles and for all his brute force he’s never thrived in Paris-Roubaix, a ninth and a tenth place in the past. He could go better, a top-10 is entirely possible and if he’s in the running for fifth place then he could sprint for first no?

Greg Van Avermaet is looking strong but not outstanding. He’s often a generous rider who works hard and makes obvious attacks and Paris-Roubaix should reward this more than other races because once a rider like him gets a gap in the final 25km it should be possible to keep rivals at a distance. But he’s not in sizzling form and if his CCC team have some useful, experienced hands like Łukasz Wiśniowski, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and Michael Schär they’ve tended to vanish before the final hour of action in the classics this spring.

Wout van Aert was all set to be the next big thing in the classics until Mathieu van der Poel stole his thunder. Still the Belgian might have a touch less punch than MvdP but he’s got endurance and should be in the mix. Danny van Poppel can feature too, he’s a prototype rider for the course with his heavy build and strong finish and Mike Teunissen too.

Ag2r La Mondiale got second place with Silvan Dillier last year, the Swiss rider went in the early breakaway, got caught by Sagan and was the only rider who could stay with the Slovak. Oliver Naesen is the team’s best bet, he’s strong and has a decent sprint on him too after a hard race. Alexis Gougeard has just won the Circuit de la Sarthe and the breakaway specialist – he goes early because he hates fighting for position late in a race – is a long range contender like Dillier.

EF Education First start with nothing to lose. Sebastian Langeveld and Sep Vanmarcke bring experience but still not peak form. Taylor Phinney told Mitch Docker’s podcast he’d made up his mind to retire on the eve of Paris-Roubaix last year only to crack the top-10 and he’s back again for the one day race that suits his 87kg hulk.

Trek-Segafredo have been promising plenty for the classics for some years now but have had a discreet campaign so far and John Degenkolb looks their best bet and Jasper Stuyven capable of a long range move.

Team Sky’s best bets Gianni Moscon and Dylan van Baarle are still chasing form after early-season injuries but both looked close last Sunday. British pair Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard could contend too but both have gone from team leaders and strong picks to outsiders in the last few of years.

Among the other names Arnaud Démare seems built to win the race but has had a spring to forget, usually capable of making the podium his best result so far has been 28th in last Sunday’s Ronde which suggests things might be turning around while team mate Stefan Küng is an outsider too. Katusha-Alpecin’s giant Nils Politt is looking strong but converting that into a win is a tall ask. Dimension Data’s Edvald Boasson Hagen was fifth in 2016. Mitchelton-Scott have Matteo Trentin but he’s been on the boil for some time, Jack Bauer fits the bill for a strong, experienced outsider too.

Cofidis’s spring has been as chaotic as usual with Nacer Bouhanni vanishing and team manager Cédric Vasseur telling the squad’s coaches to review their work after a lacklustre performance so far. Still Christophe Laporte is built for a race like this and has a good sprint.

Finally never forget the surprise rider. Paris-Roubaix is a lottery, no story of the winner is complete without the reciprocal tale 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 2019? Adrien Petit (Direct Energie) is a local with a dream and without a leader now. André Greipel (Arkea-Samsic) was asking himself whether he should continue as a pro after the Scheldeprijs, this would be a swangsong.

Greg Van Avermaet, Wout van Aert
Alexander Kristoff, Yves Lampaert, Oliver Naesen, Peter Sagan
Štybar, Degenkolb, Langeveld, van Baarle
Vanmarcke, Keukeleire, Rowe, Moscon, Politt, Démare, Oss, Senéchal

Weather: dry but cold at the start. A light headwind for much of the race, 20km/h from the NE which means a 3/4 tailwind for the latter seconds of pavé which should help to split things up.

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 11.15 with the finish expected around 5.30pm.

Roubaix TV Photo credit: Thomas Sweertvaeger from the Belgian book “Supporters Leven Voor de Koers” / Top photo credit: ASO/Pressesports

42 thoughts on “Paris-Roubaix Preview”

  1. “The game of stones” – well played 👍🏻👏🏻👏🏻🤣
    @ukcyclingexpert would say “chateau!” or as a Scot might say “bunnet”.
    Not a clue who will win tomorrow, would love Stybar to get it but as you’ve said often Openingsweekend was ages ago and it’s very hard to hold form that long.

    • Why? He’s shown literally no results since he turned pro. At least Hayman and Vansummeran pulled were top-flight domestiques. Phinney just does nothing for ten years, gets a lucky top ten, and he’s a contender all of a sudden?

      If Phinney wins it would be the most undeserved, fluke result ever.

      • Why such a harsh response? Check his palmares before you state he has no results since turning pro. It’s not great, but prior to an injury in 2014 that was as severe as any member of the peloton has suffered he was showing some real promise. Yes, it would be a fluke, but not as big as you suggest and it would be an amazing comeback story.

        • EFEF
          I’d also love to see Taylor Phinney win (& doesn’t He have TRACK in Him). Anyone on EFEF really, Sebastian Langeveld and especially Sep Vanmarcke. -So SEP with extra Love.

          But if I was to wager, I’d pick another Alberto BETTIOL, a rider who is not quite a favorite.

          Though, Sagan has had issues in a few+ last races and that’s when He’s MOST dangerous; He wraps His head around what He must do in order to prevail.

          Ultimately, w-i-d-e open.

  2. Great Preview as always, thankyou!
    Has anyone ever won at first attempt? Best I can find from brief search is Boonen placing 3rd on his first ride.

  3. Can’t wait to see the race. It’s so open. I know it will be hard for Asgreen to get away early, but if he does and brings the sustainability we saw in Flanders it could make for a thriller.
    It seems like a transition year where the older riders are not as strong as before but perhaps still are in reputation – and the younger riders are stronger than they believe. Perhaps they believe it now after Flanders?

    Thanks for the winged words

  4. I thought Sebastian Langeveld looked strong at Flanders – I (perhaps irrationally) think EF could go well again with Vanmarcke looking in decent form, considering he’s coming back from an injury.

    • EF1 rode so well last week it’s very easy to join the dots and see them doing likewise tomorrow.
      And Vanmarcke would be my choice in their cohort too.
      Indeed, I think it could be the year of the ‘van man’ – my top pick is Wout Van Aert.
      Van Avermaet as third choice.

      As a Saganista, it’s amazing that he looks to have got his classics preparation so wrong.
      But has he? Maybe it’ll all come together soon, here or at Amstel?

      • I can’t help thinking Sagans personal life must be having an effect, he split up with his wife 9 months ago so its had time to sink in over the winter, even if its amicable that will have an impact on his motivation

        • Oh, I didn’t know that. That could be a bad game changer for his performance. Mental weakness can cause great damage on such a difficult race.

        • This is complete guesswork. It could be any number of reasons. His personal life is precisely that. Many people seem to think that the lives of ‘celebrities’ are there to be picked apart. For me, not only is this none of my business, it’s irrelevant and of no interest to anyone but the people involved.

        • Was the story of Sagan being sick to the point he lost 4 kilos fake news? Dunno about you folks but if I was sick enough to have this happen I don’t know how long it would take to be back to whatever 100% would be for an old-fart like me. He’s getting better, perhaps he’ll be back to that level by Sunday? All the other stuff about his personal life is just “Dr. Phil” level speculation unless you know the man personally and he explained it to you first-hand.

        • I’ve seen a lot of big Sagan fans forming theories about his person life to explain away the dip in form. Surely that’s… idol speculation

  5. Roubaix reminds me of the Grand National. Loads of different scenarios, loads of different riders have a chance. No stand out favourite, and always some big crashes and falls. I’m going for a Sky rider, which one I don’t know.

  6. With no rider(s) looking dominant and – once again (what a spring) – the weather looking clement, I think we’ll get a relatively large group at the finish, say 10 or so.
    So, I’m tipping Kristoff: his form’s good and unless he just hates the pavé, he seems made for this race.

    • i can see kristoff coming to the finale with wva, stybar, and a few other stings guys and taking it. he seems to perform well in that kind of position—a now or never surge of strength (except for that one time at worlds).

      it would be neat to see someone win MSR, flanders, and PR in awhile.

    • WHAT? Kristoff? Have you forgotten he’s too fat/out-of-condition?! Aren’t you paying attention to the experts here? 🙂 Despite my dislike of Team SKY, I wouldn’t mind seeing “Il Trattore” improve his result from 2017.

  7. We are now fully in the post Boonen and Cancellara era. With no clear cut favorite to dictate the race. On paper, it looks like a very open edition. Quick-Step could be the only team capable of controlling the race, but ultimately a combination of the cobbles, who really has legs, avoids a untimely flat or crash. Looks to be a fun edition.

  8. If it’s an outsider you want, what about Imanol Erviti of Movistar? 9th in 2016 and a consistent finisher in other years. Watch him go on the pave

  9. Nice preview, as always. I just read that Kristoff is going to try a different position on the bike for this race, to see if his tendency to put too much weight on the front wheel is his PR problem. Seems like a recipe for disaster to make that kind of sudden change in a race this hard.
    As yet another Sagan fan, part of me thinks it could all be coming together, and part of me thinks something more psychological than physical is going on, and that this will be another strong performance that isn’t finished off with the usual Sagan panache.
    If he falters, I’ll be rooting for Oss and Vanmarcke and Phinney. The latter is an extreme long shot, and I understand he has a bit of an injury, but I’d love to see him in the mix for a podium spot.

  10. For an outsider, the loyal domestique who might have their day of days how about Tim Decqlerq or Iljo Keisse? As you say Quick Step don’t look so strong now. Stybar faded at the Ronde, Gilbert has been sick and Lampaert never looks entirely convincing as a genuine favourite. There’s a 90% chance that when you put a bicycle race on tv one of those two will be on the front, they certainly have the engine. Instead of having them marshal the chase get one of them in the early move and see if they can do a Van Summeren while everyone else does the chase work. Obviously Decqlerq would have to get to the stadium alone as he’d struggle to outsprint himself.
    Of the more sensible choices I quite fancy Degenkolb.

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