Paris-Roubaix Preview

Are you sitting comfortably? A traditional Paris-Roubaix awaits, after pandemic and electoral postponements, the race finally back to its traditional slot, and Easter Sunday one too. To add to the tradition, at least this century, it’ll be dry too.

The Route: 257km from Compiègne to Roubaix. To get to the cobbles there’s almost 100km on regular roads, including a few gentle climbs. All the course is exposed to the wind but conditions look calm for Sunday so last year’s crosswind ambush is unlikely to repeated.

It’s worth remembering that in this 257km race, 92% of the course ranges between tarmac and 3-star cobble sections, only 8% is the fearsome four and five star sections, it’s still a road race and plenty of action happens on the ordinary roads. Sectors are rated by difficulty but also a function of distance. So a short sector with stones jagged enough to puncture tires and dreams alike may not merit a diabolical rating, the second section at Templeuve comes to mind, it’s a brute but it’s short so only has two stars.

The Arenberg Forest is one of those self-fulfilling strategic points as riders rush to be at the front in case of a crash… which heightens the crash risk. It’s been tended by a herd of goats this year which doesn’t just provide ecological headlines and cute images, it’ll help the riders. To explain, in the past the authorities deployed weed killer and then heavy street-cleaning rotary brushes on trucks to clean the dead vegetation away from the pavé only this also gouged out the material between the stones making the edges even more pronounced. The caprine care this year means this will be a little less savage. Anyway, back to the sport and riders will know from here on if they’re on a good day or not.

Now the sectors come thick and fast as the route twists and turns across Le Nord, a grim corner of France whether it’s mythologised in the tales of Zola or the newspaper and TV bulletins of late. Mons-en-Pévèle is a brute, three kilometres and often where the race is lost by many.

With 20km to go the crucial sectors of Camphin and then the Carrefour de l’Arbre arrive. This final one is five-star, two kilometres and the hardest part comes towards the end where it starts to climb and this is the crucial moment to make the difference.

The Finish: Held in the old velodrome, riders enter the 500m rough 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, harder than it sounds after 250km.

The Contenders

Mathieu van der Poel is the obvious pick, albeit in a race that’s often full of surprises and traps so no five chainring-rating for him. He’s in sparkling form and packs a reassuring sprint. His Alpecin-Deceuninck team is able to support him but that’s as far as they go, they’re not going to bend the race to their will. He’s prone to nonchalance at times, at being out of place but the calmer weather conditions should make this less of a worry. He’ll be heavily marked but once on the pavé and things are lined out he can make his moves.

Wout van Aert has been on the receiving end of late but it’s still relative, fourth place in Flanders was a defeat by the expectations we place on him and Jumbo-Visma but the form is almost there. He’s been complaining about his knee but if he’s there for the finish, well by then everything will feel sore. It’s the last chance for him and the team to get the cobbled Monument they crave. The team bring back Dylan van Baarle whose form is unknown but he wouldn’t be starting if he wasn’t capable so he’s a contender, especially for a longer range move. Christophe Laporte can win this race as well, his ability to make intense efforts for two minutes counts for plenty and he’s fast in a sprint too.

Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) is the form pick, he was very strong in the Ronde but much like then, what to do with the other riders? He got the better of Van Aert in the sprint last Sunday but can he beat everyone? So many questions but perhaps it’s best not to overthink things and to just aim to be in the thick of the action in the final hour.

Filippo Ganna (Ineos) got a lot going for him. Time trial specialists have long found Paris-Roubaix to their liking and Ganna looks like a bigger version of three-time winner Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara who won three times but often had to go solo because his sprint was a liability. Ganna however showed a new weapon in his armoury with that sprint in Sanremo and rivals will be wary of him in a sprint too. At 86kg the cobbles will almost bounce off him but that heightens the risk of mechanicals, even if today’s bike equipment mitigates plenty of this risk, his challenge is the hustle and bustle for position where despite his size he’s less than gladiatorial. Magnus Sheffield is an outsider worth watching too but has had a difficult spring campaign and more than any race Paris-Roubaix rewards experience or at least perseverance.

It feels like you can’t mention Soudal-Quickstep without bringing words like trouble, absence or decline but their team is arguably most suited to Paris-Roubaix, in part because Yves Lampaert (pictured left) and his diesel-style of racing, give him five metres and he could be a hard rider to bring back. Florian Sénéchal is the local who dreams of improving on his sixth place from 2019 but like many team mates has had a rough time while Davide Ballerini and Tim Merlier could surprise.

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was strong in the Ronde but as ever if he jumps everyone thinks he’s a great wheel to follow as he’s so strong and if they stay away, he shouldn’t be much of a problem in the sprint. Fred Wright (Bahrain) is in form again and capable of being in the front group while Matej Mohorič has made Paris-Roubaix his big goal after a strong performance last year.

Arnaud De Lie (Lotto-Dstny) is back and by now the pressure has dropped, but so could his form and his weakness at times has been his brute force which has caused him to crash in corners, he might need more finesse for the pavé, team mate Florian Vermeersch was solid in the Ronde and now has a flat route to suit. Mikkel Bjerg is not normally been a cobbled classics guy but he’s got a giant engine and could be UAE’s best bet even if Matteo Trentin is in form and a crafty racer. Nils Politt (Bora-hansgrohe) has been visible in many spring classics, in part because he’s attacked solo at the wrong points, enjoying a spell in the limelight before being swamped but this could still pay off. Sep Vanmarcke (Israel) was third in Gent-Wevelgem and an outsider.

If last week’s Dutch word was anticiperen, in French it’s anticiper and the same principle applies. Many wins in Paris-Roubaix have come from the early breakaway and having riders up the road gives a team an option on the win and also having helpers up front to support leaders. We can have a course de mouvement, where wave after wave of attacks go at the start. Long shots who might slip into an early move with dreams of winning à la Van Summeren/Hayman include Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Bingoal-WB), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Total Energies), Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X), Luke Durbridge (Jayco-Al Ula), Max Walscheid (Cofidis) or Greg Van Avermaet (Ag2r Citroën).

Mathieu van der Poel
Filippo Ganna, Mads Pedersen, Wout van Aert
Christophe Laporte, Dylan Van Baarle, Matej Mohorič
Lampaert, Vanmarcke, Küng, Asgreen, Politt, Wright, Bjerg, Garcia Cortina, Trentin

Weather: dry and sunny for sure, the forecast for the wind varies according to the sources, some suggest a light 15km/h tailwind for the predominant northerly direction of the race, others almost nothing.

TV: live from start at 11.01am CEST to finish at 5.20pm CEST. Normally it’s on the same channel you watch the Tour de France on so France Télévisions for locals and VPN users, and Eurosport/GCN in most other countries.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes: it’s today (Saturday) between 1.30pm and 5.30pm CEST with TV coverage for the final two hours, about where the first of the 17 cobbled sectors begins. This blog’s picks are Lotte Kopecky (SD-Worx) and half her team mates. You’ll find a better informed, proper preview over at

60 thoughts on “Paris-Roubaix Preview”

  1. I think van der Poel will take it, which is about as dull a prediction as you can get. He looked immense in the Ronde and, as in the E3, better than van Aert.

    It might well be that van der Poel is just the stronger rider in one-day races, but I also wonder how much van Aert’s focus on being a domestique in grand tours has blunted him when it comes to one-day races (as we’ve seen with other riders, such as Kwiatkowski).

    • Totally agree with you and INRNG.
      If MVDP doesn’t crash/mechanical I can’t see him losing.

      The central questions for me are:
      Can WVA hold onto MVDP and win a sprint.
      Can Ganna hold WVA/MVDP’s wheel and win a sprint.
      Can any riders get up the road and stay clear of those 3.

      I almost think this could be an exciting edition as many teams have no choice but to be aggressive. Pedersen and Kung will predictably look to get up the road – the interesting part will come by who Ineos and Jumbo send up the road – if Ganna and Laporte go clear things will get mega quickly.

      I love PR

      • I do wonder if Ganna’s sprint at M-SR has been overstated. We couldn’t see his sprint from the start, but he went from a long way out, and I wonder if he caught WVA and Pogacar off guard, got the gap and then that was that. Racing for victory at the end of a race, it seems unlikely that other riders would let that happen. That said, neither of those two got close to catching him.

  2. I will be interested to watch the start to see if the breakaway takes a good 100 km to form like flanders as so many strong riders feel they can slip away and attempt a Summeren/Hayman type race and not face mvdp and wva later.
    The other teams than jumbo will need to be on top of their game to prevent a repeat of some earlier races.
    I think i will favour a jumbo rider for the win but probably not WVA. More likely a jumbo rider gets away whilst the others watch WVA. But as only roubaix can just about anything may happen and tactics get blown out the window.
    Compared to last year i think Mvdp should be in better condition. A week before roubaix he already looked a bit over done for hard racing and he looked it during roubaix as well. Last year in the leadup he seemed to do much more hard racing off a poor off season with injury.

  3. ‘Caprine care’ sounds nice until…
    Zoonotic Diseases from Sheep/Goats
    Rabies. Rabies is a severe, viral disease that can affect all mammals, including sheep and goats.
    Contagious Ecthyma (Soremouth) …
    Ringworm (Dermatophytosis) …
    Chlamydiosis. …
    Campylobacteriosis. …
    Listeriosis. …
    Salmonella. …
    Q Fever (Query Fever, Coxiellosis)

    Favourite winner of recent years is Matt Hayman who was in the break and just dieseled it from there after being caught. After hanging for the final 12km and somehow finding speed – can’t call it a sprint – at the end to win among a small group. Oh yeah, he broke his arm at Nieuwsblad and went on the trainer till race day.. And it was Boonen he beat. Amazement and delight (nearly) all round.

    Hope they all keep out of Casualty.

  4. I must say that I disagree with your pick of Soudal-Quickstep names. I think their best pick for Sunday will be Asgreen. His performance in Flanders brought back memories of his 2021 season. It’s been a long way back from his injury last year, but he has been getting closer for each of the spring classics this year.

      • If Asgreen has come into form following Flanders he might be the strongest rider who is given space to ride away at around 50km? Similar to DVB last year – other second/third tier riders like DVB, Laporte, Pedersen, Kung you have the feeling will be heavily marked but I could see Asgreen ride off and surprise as they can’t mark everyone. Although I firmly expect MVDP to nail this one personally, it would be funny if it were those two again once we get to the velodrome.

  5. Looks as though it is MVDP’s for the taking but I will go for Peddersen as he fits the mould of a PR non-favourite type … even if not so old.

  6. I’m going to go with Wout. I think the lack of hills helps him and hinders MvdP. Also his team may actually be a help. Get Van Hooydonck up the road, the when he’s caught Van Baarle can go, then Laporte etc. I’ll say Van Baarle will be caught in sight of the line and Van Aert will take the sprint.
    My outside bet for the role of loyal workhorse having their day in the sun is Oss.

      • I do wonder to what extent Sagan simply lost interest when he reached about 30. Has he really been training like he used to because that seems too early an age to have lost so much form for solely physiological reasons? Mind you, perhaps it’s because he’s had a long career and, as someone pointed out here recently, has done a lot of races per season in that career.

          • Feb 21, Jan 22, Jun 22, as far as I can see. But what about all the time before that and in between cases – unless it permanently affected him?

        • In a recent interview with Vicennati he admitted he lost interest, sort of, plus he didn’t feel at ease with some unspecified big change in cycling from 2020 onward.

          • TotalEnergies must have been delighted to hear that. Mind you, they could surely tell before they signed him in 2022 that for whatever reasons he was no longer the same rider.

        • Regarding Sagan fading when he reached age 30, this is far from unusual. If you look at riders who achieved elite status at ages 20-21 (there are surprisingly few who accomplished this), Merckx is about the only one I can find in the history of cycling who continued to be elite beyond age 30, and even he was done by age 32.

          Additionally as ZKelly noted, he had three bouts of COVID, with the first two before he had been vaccinated as far as I can tell. We know from a study of professional soccer players that COVID affects older athletes much more than younger ones, and we know that the respiratory damage lasts for months after symptomatic infections. Recovery is also significantly impaired for months after the infection. If you add just a few percentage points of impairment from COVID to the gradual effects of aging, there’s really no mystery.

          As for his losing interest, that’s seemed to me a long, gradual process. Sagan has loved racing as long as it wasn’t a job or an obligation. He started talking about retiring early back in 2014 when he was overtraining and racing over 90 race days a year while being mocked by Tinkoff for not regularly winning 2-3 monuments/WC a year. He pushed through that and had several staggeringly successful seasons, which set up the unrealistic expectation he could keep doing that into his 30s, as if it were a simple matter of resolve.

          After his thigh/butt injury in the 2018 TdF, which he finished in great pain, he never again seemed to have his old ‘pop’ at the end of races. You can see this in GTstages after that – lots of seconds and thirds, but only two tough wins in the Giro (one of which was an epic breakaway win, so only a single fast finish win). And of course his storybook life was upended with his separation and divorce in 2018, after which he was visibly more subdued and, perhaps, unenthusiastic.

          Looking at PCS, Sagan had 756 race days from age 20 through age 29. That’s 75.6 race days a year, for a solid decade. In WvA’s six completed men’s elite road seasons, he’s averaged half that many race days per year on the road. MvdP has four completed seasons at the elite level on the road and an even lower average (36 race days/year). Put another way, Sagan had more race days through age 24 (389) than the two vans have had combined (372) before this season.

  7. Another annual feature of PR, is the various bits of bike tech that Teams may or may not use. Is there a historical precedence of a team winning through a tech advantage?

    • It’s hard to tell if the tech makes the difference or if it’s just along for the ride. If a Jumbo rider wins tomorrow with adjustable tire pressure, is it down to this? Or if they finish second in a photo-finish, did the added weight and friction cost them or did the suspension effect allow them to be in the mix for the sprint? Hard to separate etc.

      There’s also evidence for tech proving a disaster, from Johan Museeuw’s bendy bouncy Bianchi to CSC trying to be the first to all use carbon rims (which shattered) and more. This is often down to not testing things enough before and hopefully a thing of the past.

      What’s interesting is that a lot of bikes now don’t need modification, Pogačar was riding 30mm section tires to win Paris-Nice and this would work fine for tomorrow, although some will go wider but at his weight, may be less so. Many bikes might have an extra layer of bartape or different chainrings.

      • Is there a tyre width max in the rules like in cyclocross. My current gravel bike came with what was essentially 35mm road tyres that rolled super well on the road. Wider / lower pressure tyres would make the cobbles better. If they were soft as well no large disadvantage on road as well.

      • The horse has already bolted in that electronic shifting has brought external power sources to what were always completely human-powered machines. Even so I’m surprised that the UCI has rolled over in allowing another external power source onto racing bicycles. Battery-powered GPS/computers/power meters/race radios attract their share of opposition but at least they’re not performing physical work.
        This may be the future of cycle racing but at some point I’d like the UCI to draw a line and say that what makes cycling cycling is that the human does the physical work, not a series of additional batteries and motors.

        • The adjustable tyre pressure system is driven by human power and the only electric motors on-board in the peloton are still those that make the derailleurs move.
          The battery powers the electronics for communication with and the control of the system.

          I, too, can see the beauty in purity and simplicity and I can easily tolerate those among my riding buddies who apparently never get tired of teasing the ones who “resort to electric motors to do the physial work”, but I must admit that they seem to stick to a principle for the point of being principled about it.

          That said, I still oppose dropper posts, suspension stems and forks….

          PS Just as oddly and ineplicably I find myself hoping for a Soudal – Quick-Step rider to win today!

  8. Hopefully we don’t get another “Maciejuk incident” as the race is always a bit of a lottery anyway with mechanicals and crashes. Stuyven was 7th last year and was there with Pogacar on the cobbles at TdF so he’s my outside bet otherwise MvdP is favourite.

    • I think Laporte is a smart choice. Monuments are often won by second-tier favourites like him while the real favourites mark each other in the finale. Laporte may not get away in the manner of Terpstra and Bettiol but could do so closer to the finish, or win a sprint, from a small group.

      • If there was a year/period when it’s NOT likely to see the favourites just mark each other, it would be now. Especially following the Famous 5 discussion, I think this group of favourites are exceptional in going for it and not just racing to not lose (hat tip to Larry’s favourite expression!).
        Hope I’m not proved wrong!

      • He’s still a quality rider, and often feels like the perennial underdog, but always puts in a solid performance…but for all of his success on the Belgian cobbles, he’s never performed to the same level in P-R – his best result is 9th in 2013, and often he finishes at the lower end of the top 60…

        • I like Kristoff, just because he doesn’t particularly look like a cyclist. He’s probably slimmer than all of us in real life but looks a bit burly. Like Ian Stannard used to he reminds me of a rugby player doing off season training.

  9. Amazing that no one tips last year’s winner although he was by far the strongest rider on that day, and not completely unexpected for those who followed his career.
    So, for the fun of it, I’ll go with DvB – maybe even riding on Gravaa Wheels 😉 – and arriving solo as last year.
    Wishing us all some exciting race without major injuries for the racers.

    • I think it’s the fact that he’s coming in after injury and PRoubaix has a history of surprise winners who rarely win twice.

      For me it seems reasonable to note he’s a lower ranked contender but fine if he’s your pick, Jumbo have multiple riders who might either get up the road and hold on or ghost away.

      Considering how strong MVDP is and how regularly WVA works with him when the ride together (usually to WVA’s detriment), I find it hard to envisage MVDP not being able to close a gap to a break and win from there but who knows – if I were Jumbo I’d be forcing riders away so you made sure WVA couldn’t work with MVDP as he so often does before losing big races – even in MSR it was WVA who closed the gap to Pog at the start of his attack only for MVDP to be the one to attack later.

      Last year DVB had that quality of being very strong but allowed to ride away, which he’ll probably have a little less this year – I’d like Kung to be the one let of the leash this year, he seems like a nice guy who’s yet to have a big win.

  10. No spoilers, only to say INRNGs comments and points of analysis proved completely correct for the womens’ race. Went from huffing at the lack of ambition to sheer delight in the last 7km. Well worth watching.

  11. I know its not really a prediction as it happens in nearly every major race now but I think the start of the race will be crazy fast. Everyone will want to get in the break. Whether its top riders not in the Fab 5 (or 2 in this case) wanting to have a chance of being in front of an attack by MvdP/WVA, or Jumbo wanting to fire options up there or just people recognising the need to be in front in case of a crash on one of the greasy sections as happened in the womens race. I think in general the race will be very fast today.

      • Yep. Fully expected MVDP to win and still have a feeling he was the strongest in the race despite never really seeing what Wout had but oddly think Wout raced today better than he normally does tactically and may well have snatched the sprint. Unfortunate end to a race that never really caught fire.

        Admittedly Flanders was possibly best one day race I’ve ever seen or at least top5 so happy to have one of the two being less than brilliant!

    • Makes the How the Race was Won kind of simple: Yeah, you had to be up there to be in it, but knock out one guy and then the only guy left to challenge you gets a flat and the win is yours.
      I’m wondering what the J/V team guys are thinking about tire/wheel selection on Monday morning? I don’t believe the difference between the various things can win the race but Sunday showed how they can cause one to lose. With all the hype about the newest-latest (and expensive) tire/wheel “technology” one would think more efforts would be taken to keep the air inside since all those techno advantages are pretty much gone when the things go flat.

      • Unfortunately though neither WVA nor Laporte used the new changing pressure system.

        They were both on the old one and both flatted. Interestingly though both also flatted last year. Which probably means little as flatting in Roubaix isn’t unusual but maybe there is something they could look at.

        I assume he was riding with the foam inners to keep on so long after the flat on cobbles (WVA).

        • I’ve read reports that claimed Laporte was using some inflation gizmo while WVA was not. The gizmos are fairly easy to see on the front since the hub has the guts inside so is much larger. When you mention foam liners I assume you imply they were using some sort of road tubeless system? With SRAM now as their component supplier (who bought Zipp awhile back) I wonder if what they used was different than last year when they had Shimano bits or was it the same with different brand logos stuck on? Whatever it was it didn’t work very well and likely cost both chances at a win IMHO. How many flats did the J/V team suffer in total on Sunday?
          I wonder how big a fan of all this the poor guy on another team whose front tire blew, then came off the rim with sealer all over the place before it looked like his plastic wheel broke in half is? Doesn’t make me think too many are gonna run out and buy that setup for their own bike, but what do I know…I still ride around on aluminum wheels with those old-time rubber bladders inside my tires to hold the air 🙂

          • TBC but believe Alpecin and Jumbo were using the same tyres so luck definitely played a part. Whether the wheels made a difference or MVDP was better at steering through the pot holes, not sure.

          • HPster: That always begs the question – the same TIRES or tires with the same BRAND logo on them? I guess the daze when they pulled carefully aged tubulars out of somebody’s attic for the Queen of the Classics are long gone? As to potholes, are you assuming the flats are what used to be called “pinch” flats? The flats that road tubeless marketing-mavens claim are eliminated since their (expensive) technical marvels have no tubes inside?

          • Ha, Larry your comments are hilarious…

            You always start from the place – everybody else is daft! (laughing emoji)

            When you say ‘run out and buy’… who are you talking about? Cycling isn’t The Super Mario Bros Movie! (BBC News is saying it’s very successful today!) I don’t think there are stampedes at bike stores the day after Paris Roubaix… a few people will follow trends, some will follow reviews, some will wait and see, some can’t afford… basically the same as nearly every other aspect of life, people aren’t as daft as you think! Or maybe we’re all sheeple to you? (Coincidentally my favourite new word of the last five years)

            Anyway… I also ride a steel frame and old wheels and rarely have the money to upgrade to fancy disc brakes and carbon frames, so have not. If I could I would love to but also enjoy my old timer components like you – I just don’t think everyone else is silly for trying new stuff even if it sometimes doesn’t work!

            Re-inflating tyres so like a wonderful idea! Disc brakes in the peloton scare me and the extra maintenance would annoy me but I can see the value. Carbon’s fragility/expense puts me off even if the new gen of Aero frames are finally as good looking as old school steel. Electronic gears sound fantastic as I assume they mean less maintenance? Carbon rims I’m on the fence about as I’ve busted many metal rims so if they were cheaper would happily try. What else new is there?

            But anyway – always enjoy your comments, very much on the opposite side of the spectrum to me despite us both riding Gios’ and enjoying old school gear – one day I think you’ll wake up and see most people younger than us are happy and positive trying to change things for the better!

  12. oldDave: “…one day I think you’ll wake up and see most people younger than us are happy and positive trying to change things for the better!” When did I say they weren’t? And you claim I start from the same place every time…but you claim I make statements that people younger than us are unhappy and negative.
    A lot of my perspective (warped as it may be) comes from decades in the bike biz both in retail and working for and later running my own bike tour company so just MAYBE I’ve dealt with a few more consumers (though I hate that word) than you? And perhaps I’ve not only ridden a lot more of this new stuff but also worked on (or tried to make it work?) than you have?
    Trust me, the conversations I’ve had about “the stupid s–t people will buy” (mostly with other mechanics) go way back to when “Joe Crankarm” would come into the store and try to convince me titanium was somehow lighter than aluminum or that TUFO “tubular” tires that you crammed onto a clincher rim were a good idea. As they say, “Same s–t, different day”

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