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.