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Paris-Roubaix Preview

Paris Roubaix is back. If the race didn’t exist they’d have to invent it, and if they invented it today the race would be banned. It’s a wild ride on a dry day thanks to the rough cobbles which are unlike anything else in pro cycling only now the forecast is for rain in the morning.

We’ll see how the race develops. Winning moves are going from far out these days and the wet cobbles, including the images from yesterday’s racing, will only encourage more to get out in front as early as possible.

The Course: Starting in Compiègne, it’s 257km. There’s almost 100km due north before the first pavé and these roads count, more up and down than you might think. Then come the cobble sectors, all 30 of them with varying difficulties. This matters because some are mere cobbled passages, some are rough farm tracks and a few are downright medieval.

While the four and five star sections are crucial, they total 21km or 8% of the distance and a lot can happen on the tarmac sections. The Arenberg Forest is one of those self-fulfilling strategic areas as riders rush to be at the front in case of a crash… which heightens the crash risk and from here on the sectors come thick and fast as the route twists and turns across Le Nord. With 20km to go the crucial sectors of Camphin and then the Carrefour de l’Arbre arrive.

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, easier than it sounds after 260km.

The Contenders: who to pick? Normally by now we’ve had weeks and weeks of copycat cobbled competitions, now there’s just the Worlds to go as a real test of form, and that’s before we layer on the chaos of the cobbles, now with added water. Nobody gets five chainrings…

Still, like last week Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is the safe pick but like last week he might still come up short, was Leuven just an off day or is the form not quite there? Probably the former given he had a great TT. He’s made for a race like this given his cyclo-cross skills and packs a sprint that allows him to win from a group. He’s also got a whole team in service with Mike Teunissen as potential contender too.

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) also has questions about his form. No debutant has won Paris-Roubaix since the 1950s but MvdP is used to ripping up the script and it’s not as if the course is a mystery. He rode an economical race in Leuven last week rather than the usual extravagant display so he might just not have it and is still on the mend following his Izu wipeout. Jasper Philipsen is a handy sidekick, a prolific sprint winner this year but he’s arguably a classics contender too while Tim Merlier is a sprinter on the road but prior to this spent years on the Belgian CX scene.

As usual Deceuninck-Quickstep come with a raft of contenders who’ll take turns to go up the road, each wanting to attack as late as possible but before the others. Florian Sénéchal is the local rider who dreams of this race and has all the attributes to win but still needs things to go his way. Kasper Asgreen and Yves Lampaert can both solo away and they’d probably have to as in a sprint their chances are reduced with Lampaert making this race his goal. Zdeněk Štybar has almost won this race and was up there in the Worlds last week and his skills come to the fore.

Trek-Segafredo can play multiple cards too just like the women did and they’ve got stronger finishers with Mads Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven both packing a punch. Quinn Simmons is along for experience but started out as an MTB rider.

Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) was second in Roubaix last time but how to win? He’s great at pouring on the power, but in a wet edition can he cope with all the brake-accelerate repeats? Peter Sagan is a former winner and yet this race has often been problematic for him, he’s seemed made for the race only to struggle.

Sep Vanmarcke is always there or thereabouts until something goes wrong. He’s had so much bad luck in crucial phases that superstitious sorts must wonder if a black cat crosses his path every day (answer: yes, he owns one) but Paris-Roubaix is his ideal race, he’s much more suited to this that, say, the Tour of Flanders and even on bad days he’s made the top-10. But how to top his second place from his 2013 debut? His Israel team have solid support with Mads Würtz and Tom Van Asbroeck.

Ag2r Citroën splashed the cash on the classics squad – they’ve long noticed that placing in the classics brings beaucoup UCI points – to hire Greg van Avermaet and got a podium in the Tour of Flanders but he says he’s not in shape to win. Oliver Naesen is probably more suited to the Flemish race too he’s good on short climbs. Scan recent results and he’s not been on fire but he’s just won a local kermesse so keep an eye on him.

Surprisingly there’s no Tom Pidcock chez Ineos. Michał Kwiatkowski looks in form but this is his first crack at the race. Dylan van Baarle was the runner-up last weekend while Gianni Moscon is back to the cobbles and always a danger in the final 20km and he’ll be hoping for more luck after a puncture ruined his chances in the Worlds last weekend.

Alexander Kristoff has only made the top-10 once but the harder the conditions the better he seems to fare, the challenge is making it to Roubaix with his wheels intact. UAE Emirates team mate Matteo Trentin is in form and can ride for himself after playing team mate last weekend for the Italians, plus he’s a former national champ in cyclo-cross.

Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain) is in form but has never started this race before which makes him hard to pick, while Matej Mohorič seems suited to a race like this but has only done it once and finished a quarter of an hour down.

The fairy tale ending is Mitch Docker wins but if he could just make it to Roubaix for his retirement that’d be great. Still he’s got a job to do at EF-Nippo with Michael Valgren in form but a Roubaix debutant and more suited to a hillier course while Sebastian Langeveld is a long shot but a regular in the top-10.

The Qhubeka-Nexthash team is having financial problems which puts a touch more pressure on their eight riders as a solid ride or a puncture could affect their career options but it doesn’t make them any faster. Sunweb have a really strong team but who can win? Paris-Roubaix often favours experience so their young squad is here for the ride.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Total Energies with Niki Terpstra, Adrien Petit and Edvald Boasson Hagen but the team’s best rider is 27 year old Anthony Turgis, a powerhouse but without a World Tour win to his name. It’s most likely to come in a hard, attritional race more than, say, a stage of Paris-Nice but it would be a giant upset if he delivered this weekend.

Some more riders. Philippe Gilbert (Lotto-Soudal) won last time but says aloud in L’Equipe today he’s not the rider he used to be following his crash down the Portet d’Aspet. Luke Durbridge (Bike Exchange) is suited to the race with its long efforts but can he cope with the technical conditions? Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) is another TT rider and classics contender, plus he often goes well in the wet and cold and team mate Arnaud Démare seems made for this race but is having a bad run this year. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) is an ex-MTB rider and handy on the cobbles but often seems to fade in races longer than 200km. Taco van der Hoorn (Intermarché-Wanty) is proving to be more than a lucky-breakaway specialist. Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) won the Tro Bro Leon and is suited to Paris-Roubaix as well.

Wout van Aert
MvdP, Stuyven, Sénéchal, Pedersen, Yves Lampaert
Štybar, Vanmarcke, Asgreen, van Baarle, Politt, Naesen
Küng, Turgis, Teunissen, Philipsen, Valgren, Trentin, Degenkolb, Moscon


The Weather: rain in the morning turning to showers and then sunshine later. A top temperature of 16°C and a 15km/h breeze from the south, not split-in-crosswinds conditions but a tailwind for the first 100km.

TV: live from start to finish on France Télévisions for locals, and Eurosport/GCN for many other places, NBC Peacock for US viewers. The start is at 11.00am CEST, the first cobbles arrive around 1.30pm CEST, the Arenberg forest at 3.00pm and the finish is for 5.20pm CEST.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Richard S Saturday, 2 October 2021, 6:46 pm

    I can’t think of a harder race to predict. You’d think maybe with the wet and the mud the cyclocrossers would be an easy pick but there’s a bit of a difference between twisting through a muddy Belgian park and blasting over slippy cobbles at 40 odd kmh, and bad luck can hit anyone. Deignan showed the value of getting up the road on your own. I’d quite fancy a powerhouse rider who’s not usually a winner to get away early and get a good lead, Oss or Langeveld would seem to fit that build. They’d probably be joined by at least one Quick Step rider though. They’ll have the luxury of covering just about every move and it makes little odds whether it’s Lampaert, Senechal, Stybar or any of the others who’s there. The way they ride though it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if the vans were up there from the off. Saying all of that I think I’m going with Stybar for the win!

    • Ecky Thump Saturday, 2 October 2021, 9:02 pm

      I think that tailwind means the race can still be fast, rain or no rain.
      It may be tough for anyone notable to get away too early if the speed is high.
      That being the case, it could be down to team strength and guiding the chosen son through the dangers.
      A strong team invariably says Quick Step, or someone who can ride their wave.
      I’ll be very unoriginal and go van Aert, he’s potentially got every answer that his Belgian rivals, the weather and the course can ask him.

  • MM Saturday, 2 October 2021, 7:26 pm

    I wonder what the DSs of the men’s teams would have learned from watching the women’s race today. Get to the front at the first cobbles and stay there? Hard to do for 155km. But today looked so hard to control the bike riding in the pack. We saw crashes galore and it seemed that in the mud to brake is to crash. And hard crashes they were too; when you’re riding on the crest of the cobbles there’s further to fall. Tomorrow’s weather will be worse – wetter and muddier. It’s going to be absolute carnage.
    Perhaps it will suit a slightly lighter, more agile rider rather than the big muscly guys who win in the dry. My money’s on an unfancied outsider.

    • Lanterne_Verte Saturday, 2 October 2021, 8:02 pm

      Or perhaps an even bigger, more muscly guy? Kung was 11th in 2019

    • Richard S Saturday, 2 October 2021, 8:18 pm

      It was a massive advantage for Deignan to be on her own. She didn’t have to swerve to avoid anyone, or instinctively brake when she saw someone in front do something. She could pick her line and just keep pedalling regardless. She had that one fairly big tank slapper where if there was anyone on either side of her they’d have touched wheels and gone down.

    • CA Sunday, 3 October 2021, 2:18 am

      Unfortunately, the races are apples and oranges – you can barely compare them. The women’s race is barely 3 hours, yet the men go 6+ hours. It’s not really even the same discipline.

      Plus, the men’s teams have WAY more past knowledge in their team managements than anything the women learned today.

      I really wish the women went 5-hours at least. They should add another 70-80km. It would prevent someone winning from a quick early breakaway and soloing it to the finish – similarly to the Olympic road race (yes, I know there were other factors).

      • Eskerrik Asko Sunday, 3 October 2021, 5:59 am

        I have to agree the distance was a bit on the short side, but adding 70-80 km would make it longer than any other race and that is not the case for the men’s race. The current standard for classic one-day races seems to be that the women race 60-65 % of the men’s distance.
        I’m not too sure, though, that the winner’s name would’ve been Vos or any other than Deignan, if the distance had been 40 km longer – or, indeed, the final of the race more dramatic or exciting.
        And – no surprise here, perhaps? – I thought women’s cycling shone rather damn brightly yesterday.

  • Larry T Saturday, 2 October 2021, 8:31 pm

    Nothing for Sagan? He won the thing just a few years ago and is going for reliability with old-time cable-operated shifting. INEOS should be 100% behind Moscon…but they won’t.
    The men’s race can’t help being better than today’s women’s race which had me recalling their debacle from Tokyo. I understand the winner had her team’s #1 and #2 riders working against any chase, but it looked pretty bad for a lone rider to simply ride off the front with no real chase going until Vos’ with only 20 km to go. Too little, too late and another dud on a stage where women’s cycling could have shone brightly 🙁

    • CA Sunday, 3 October 2021, 2:19 am

      From one huge Sagan fan to another, I’m glad he is getting very little attention. I think it will help him to be more anonymous to the pundits pre-race.

    • Digahole Sunday, 3 October 2021, 6:45 am

      Would be amazing to see Sagan pull out a repeat of his rogue Giro stage while everyone’s looking at the crossers and DQers

  • Steve Saturday, 2 October 2021, 10:22 pm

    I don’t think it’s a wild stab to suggest that a single minded Yorkshire rider, already proven at the top level, might win today. But as Tom Pidcock hasn’t been entered it won’t be a double for the Texas (or Ukraine, or Bavaria) of England this year). So someone with a Van or de La will do- as long as Larry is puffing with disgust I don’t care either way.

    • Richard G Saturday, 2 October 2021, 11:48 pm

      Connor Swift is a Yorkshire lad I think, so your dream could yet come true. As INRNG says above, he won Tro Bro Leon this year ….

      • Tovarishch Sunday, 3 October 2021, 8:05 am

        From Thorne, near Doncaster, the route will feel like home from home for him.

    • Larry T Sunday, 3 October 2021, 10:31 am

      “Larry is puffing with disgust” would happen only if the race today is like yesterday’s farce, no matter who wins. But has P-R ever degenerated into such a debacle?
      Meanwhile, don’t take my disgust with yesterday to mean I take anything away from the winner – she got the gap as per team plans, nobody chased and then the DS told her to continue. It’s not her fault a chase didn’t get organized until she was well-and-truly gone. Chapeau to her, though I would have been much happier to see her Italian teammate win instead…though it would still have been farcical, just like Tokyo.

      • RQS Sunday, 3 October 2021, 9:36 pm

        My feelings exactly. Their seems to be naivety about women’s racing whereby they use tactics learned from the men’s race and find they don’t work for them. I can understand that they didn’t have experience on the Roubaix cobbles, but in my own estimation of it I would’ve said that if they put reliance on team mates to chase down a break it would likely fail. The cobbles don’t give you the same aero advantage – or at least it diminishes it and if your team mate lacks the fire power they won’t really keep you at the sharp end of things. So you have to just chase down the breaks. First cobbles section rider goes off the front and wins…

  • 150 Watts Sunday, 3 October 2021, 12:52 am

    I will go for Sagan as I suspect that he really wants it and his bike handling skills should save him some energy.

    • haem Sunday, 3 October 2021, 8:14 am

      Plus he has some of the best domestiques in this race in Bodnar and Oss.

      And chapeau to Michal Golas riding the last race of his professional career. If he was like 15 kgs heavier, he could pull off a spectacular like Hayman did five years ago ;).

  • Bart Sunday, 3 October 2021, 7:12 am

    Great write up as always! I don’t agree with the chain rings allocation, but anything below 3 is subjective and a lottery.

    Side note: it was Greg van Avermaet not Oliver Neasen that was 3rd at Flanders. For that reason, I expect GVA will be somewhere there in top 10, but probably not enough for a win (he still won a sprint from the group in Flanders).

  • Morten Reippuert Sunday, 3 October 2021, 8:14 am

    Asgreen was sick at worlds (stomach and throwing up night and morning) – He is in shape and will be QS’s main rider. He should be 3 (or 4) stars.

    My pick is Stybar though…

  • DJW Sunday, 3 October 2021, 10:34 am

    A strong rider not at ease on a slithering bike won’t win. That can’t be WVA or MvdP but could be Kung, van Baarle, Politt… A fascinating day ahead, and it’s still raining here in NE France. Many won’t enjoy leaving the bus. How many will finish?

  • Tomski Sunday, 3 October 2021, 10:38 am

    Managed to catch the highlights of the women’s race yesterday, only slightly spoiled by Eurosport telling me who won in their daily roundup at the same time the show was due to air. It was great to see Lizzie Deignan pull off a fine win – hope her hands recover quickly!

    Anybody know why Pidcock isn’t on the start list?

    Asgreen for the win today..

  • jc Sunday, 3 October 2021, 11:33 am

    We drove along the autoroute to the east of Lille that the route crosses, the Carrefour de l’Arbre section is very close by, about an hour before the women’s race. There were a few spots of rain not much at all. When we got to the other side of Lille the rain got very heavy and prolonged (havent seen that sort of rain for months), it would have been after the race finished yesterday. It will mean lots of standing water even if it the rain stays away for the race itself.

    Even more than a lottery than normal, not only the conditions but lots of riders not really in peak condition. it could be a complete left field winner, like Matthew Hayman a few years back.

  • oldDAVE Sunday, 3 October 2021, 6:59 pm

    Am I going mad or was that not as amazing as expected?

    PR is by far my fave one day race and was very excited for this one but oddly there was less carnage than I imagined there would (not that I really even like crashes, not into the injuries) and less excitement than in many recent PRs?

    Obviously Hayman’s was the standout but I usually finishing feeling totally blown away and did today? Admittedly I felt similar on Terpstra’s win but I thought the rain was going to give a stone cold classic, and this wasn’t in the realm of the Hayman edition.

    • Eskerrik Asko Sunday, 3 October 2021, 7:21 pm

      No, you’re not going mad, it’s just that you’ve gotten old : -) And there’s that old problem: when our expectations are, well, not necessarily excessive but oversized to a certain extent they stand in the way and prevent us from observing the truly amazing and experiencing what could and indeed should blow us away (or send us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and give us enough to think about so that six hours in front of the telly doesn’t seem a long time at all).

      Of course it is always special when a rider that is one of your absolute favourites is very much involved in a fight for victory. For instance in my memory the race was more exciting when Gilbert won than when Van Avermaet won – but I have to admit that it’s entirely possible this wasn’t so for someone who just wanted to see a good and eventful race from early on.

      PS This time I would’ve been equally pleased to see Vermeersch, van der Poel or Moscon win – and I believe this would still have been a race I will return to in my thoughts. At least until next year 🙂

      • Larry T Sunday, 3 October 2021, 9:35 pm

        There seems to be confusion between able to enjoy a good race vs being a fanboy. In a race like today’s I don’t see how one couldn’t enjoy a great edition of P-R with all the “Hell of the North” promises each time. But a fanboy wouldn’t enjoy it if his boy failed to win.
        My father-in-law is a good example: His PhD Philosopher of Sport daughter was discussing how she wanted to enjoy a great college football game on TV with her dad, a game between the university he paid a ton of dough to send her brother to vs some other school I can’t remember the name of. He said: “I don’t want a good game, I want a wipe-out!”
        IMHO today was a superlative edition of P-R and any of the top 4 finishers would have been a worthy winner. I feel sad for Moscon, “marginal gains giveth and marginal gains taketh away.”

        • oldDAVE Sunday, 3 October 2021, 11:07 pm

          Yes I loved the Gilbert edition likewise, I remember VanAs most because of DOss’ work for him, but again was very satisfied after – maybe I was in a funny mood, it was just the first edition I didn’t really connect with since Terpstra. I actually like Colbrelli and was happy for him, although since the whispers of Padun and doping in BV plus their great season I have a few reservations but that doesn’t get in the way of appreciating his victory.

          I think maybe I just love feats of strength that blow you away and a single rider waltz’s away then no one can follow, and PR does that better than almost any other race which is why when you don’t get that I’m a tiny bit disappointed. Unless it’s a crazy surprise like Hayman.

          Err, don’t know what to say Larry… I hope you’re well and happy. Your replies are always laced with so much anger I never understand, I like all cycling fans, whether they are neutral or fanboys, the more people watching the merrier I say. I made time to watch women’s race just to show up on their statistics and show their is an audience, LD’s victory made my day and was worth every second.

          • oldDAVE Sunday, 3 October 2021, 11:31 pm

            There not their obviously.

          • Larry T Monday, 4 October 2021, 8:10 am

            “Your replies are always laced with so much anger ” What? People claim I write all kinds of things that I’ve never written (like “to hell with safety”) so I’ll file that comment in with the rest of those way-off-the-mark ones I guess.
            Meanwhile I’m happy and well, on my way north to see Milano-Torino from the iconic Superga climb for my first time followed by seeing Il Lombardia from Bergamo’s high city. The 2021 pro cycling season’s closing down, but this final week is packed with racing 🙂

    • Davesta Monday, 4 October 2021, 12:41 pm

      To an extent I agree. A few thoughts:

      – I think the rain meant there was a (larger) element of survival about the whole thing – a dry P-R is often laced with stinging attacks across the cobbles, tactical decisions about when to spend energy to bridge from group to group, groups splitting and reforming, and a large dose of luck. There was obviously a fair amount of the latter two yesterday, but (mvdp aside) not so much of the former – the attacks felt a little more slow-motion and tinged with worries about tyre grip & bike handling…

      – The lack of DQS representation probably made for a less tactical race as well

      – And maybe the chaos meant that it was harder for the tv coverage to provide a coherent narrative – I’m not sure if I simply missed it, but I don’t think we even saw Moscon attack/drop his companions?

      It was still epic, but a different kind of epic to other recent editions

  • Bern Sunday, 3 October 2021, 8:01 pm

    Gotta respect the P-R bad luck quotient: Moscon Edition. That was a tough 4th place (tho it was touch&go for the brief moment in the sprint – maybe he should have been up by the rail). But was there any doubt once Colbrelli was safely in that chase group? Only more random P-R bad luck was likely to stop him.

    • RQS Sunday, 3 October 2021, 9:42 pm

      Not sure what you mean by that. Moscon was a lap behind and wasn’t contesting the win.
      He was valiant, but the commentary on his high psi seemed prescient. Felt Vermeersch gave what he could, as did VDP. VDP just looked bollocked towards the end and seemed not to have any ideas of how to get rid of Colbrelli. He sort of looked beat before the sprint.

      • 150 Watts Monday, 4 October 2021, 2:54 am

        +1 Happy for Colbrelli. The fact that he has Moscon to thank for it keeps it all Italian!

  • Richard S Monday, 4 October 2021, 12:12 am

    Great race, I think only those dangerously obsessed with the cult of Van der Poel could say otherwise. Feel bad for Moscon who I think would’ve won without the bad luck. Happy for Colbrelli though who was obviously pretty pleased. He’s always been a bit of a nearly man, but not now.

    • Richard S Monday, 4 October 2021, 12:14 am

      Oh, and Van der Poel did far far far too much work for about 70km. He needs to work on sharing.

      • cp Monday, 4 October 2021, 12:48 am

        That was a bit bewildering to me.
        I didn’t watch the European championships, but didn’t Colbrelli do the same thing there…follow Evenepoel’s wheel and then dismiss him in the sprint?

        • Larry T Monday, 4 October 2021, 8:20 am

          Yep, oldest trick-in-the-book: “I’m the better sprinter (Colbrelli) so it’s up to you (MVdP) to get rid of me before then. If you can’t I’ll follow along and blow by you for the win.”
          Watch “Sunday in Hell” and note non-sprinter Kuiper trying to sneak away from the better sprinters on their way to the velodrome. Part of my yearly pre-Paris-Roubaix TV ritual is watching Jorgen Leth’s masterpiece for the umpteenth time.
          PS- I really enjoyed W. Fotheringham’s book about the making of this film.

          • UHJ Monday, 4 October 2021, 11:05 am
          • cp Tuesday, 5 October 2021, 5:42 pm

            Didn’t know there was a book about the film. Thanks for the tip…

          • osbk67 Wednesday, 6 October 2021, 1:50 am

            I never thought I’d find a book about how a film was made, even a film about Paris-Roubaix, interesting but it was engrossing. Highly recommended.

  • Francis Monday, 4 October 2021, 11:50 am

    You’d have got good odds on a podium full of debutants! Very enjoyable race, canny ride by Colbrelli. And only 6 months to wait until the rematch!

  • mendip5000 Tuesday, 5 October 2021, 1:51 pm

    Now the mud has dried (no dust to settle on this occasion) I enjoyed the weekend’s racing more than any previous PR I’ve watched in real time.

    PR is usually the weekend after what for me is the main recent, the Ronde. Justifying a second weekend in a row sitting on the sofa to myself and family always takes some of the anticipation away from PR for me.

    With news that PR will be a week later next year, thought, I might be able to enjoy 1 future PR guilt free. I hope that gap becomes a fixture.

    There are some very disparaging comments about the way the PRFemmes was raced. I think LD used her head more than anyone else, so would begrudge any other victor, though I may be partisan. Next year’s race will be fascinating.

    As for the Sunday, I learned that I am a fan boy, (WvA) but more worryingly it turns out that “anyone but MVP” was the result I really wanted. Shoot me, but I worry that he just might believe his own hype a little too much. Next year’s race will also be fascinating.

    • Larry T Friday, 8 October 2021, 3:25 pm

      “There are some very disparaging comments about the way the PRFemmes was raced. I think LD used her head more than anyone else, so would begrudge any other victor, though I may be partisan”
      If nothing was different except Longo-Borghini won instead, would you describe the race in the same way? I take nothing away from LD – she said she followed the team strategy as their 3rd option to win and made an early effort as instructed. It’s not her fault that nobody seemed willing/able to chase until 20 km to go when she was pretty much gone, but that doesn’t make it a very interesting race unless you’re a fan of LD.
      IMHO there’s a danger of anything less than glowing comments about women’s racing being labeled misogynistic. Part of pinning on a number and getting in a race is dealing with the results…and comments from those who (one way or another) pay the bills…the spectators.

  • Larry T Friday, 8 October 2021, 8:20 am

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