Paris-Roubaix Preview

The last of the cobbled classics and the most exceptional one, in every sense. And yet the obvious outcome is a repeat of last Sunday with Mathieu van der Poel going away for a solo win.

The Course: a 15 minute neutralised roll out and then 260km. It’s 96km to the first cobbled sector and this first section is no parade. The road rises and falls, it’s the hilliest part of the course and there’s plenty of exposed roads in the countryside and street furniture in the towns, especially Saint-Quentin.

The cobbled sectors come after 96km. The graphic above shows the ratings. Look closely and you’ll see there’s no #15 and #8 features twice and if you recon the route you discover there are also some brief unmarked cobbles too; this year’s ratings have three more stars than last year. Sectors are subjectively 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. It’s always worth remembering that in this 260km race, roughly 80% is are on tarmac and 90% is tarmac and the one, two or three star rated sections.

The tarmac sectors are arguably as important as the pavé, riders sprint to get into position for the cobbles and once they’re on the farm tracks the fight for position backs off, the racing eases off from sprint to time trial.

The Arenberg Forest has long been a self-fulfilling strategic points as riders rush to be at the front in case of a crash… which heightens the crash risk. The previous section (number 20) is one of the toughest. The Arenberg’s traditional bowling alley approach altered with the “chicane” right-left-right turns onto the sector after the CPA rider union made an 11th hour request. The addition of these bends has generated a lot of interest but on race day the defining point is the 2.3km length and the jagged stones with their protruding edges.

Now the sectors come thick and fast as the route twists and turns across Le Nord, a corner of France that always gets grim portraits, take your pick from Zola, Varda or contemporary socio-economic data.

Mons-en-Pévèle is a five star 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 260km.

The Contenders

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Mathieu van der Poel won it last year, he won the Ronde last week and each time with a confident solo win. It almost feels like a question of what can beat him rather than who can beat him, that a puncture or a mechanical could pose more of a problem than his rivals but even then he’s in the kind of form where he can reverse the situation. He’s got a good sprint, and if he’s lost sometimes in a sprint in the past it’s often because he’d made many efforts before; these days he is more measured and experienced.

The one weakness for Van der Poel is team work, Alpecin-Deceuninck look smart but not imposing. In Jasper Philipsen they’ve got last year’s second place finisher but if he rides its a helper less. He’s famously quick but resilient too which counts as the sprint in the Roubaix velodrome is as much a test of stamina as speed.

For all the rest it’s about how to get ahead of Van der Poel. Attacking before he does is necessary but far from sufficient. The right move has to go such that teams wanting to beat Van der Poel have cooperate. Not collude, there will be no alliance against the rainbow jersey, just the hope they can get riders up the road together and force Alpecin to chase instead of missing the moves and having to chase themselves.

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Lidl-Trek gave a textbook example of team work in Gent-Wevelgem to enable Mads Pedersen to beat Van der Poel. Now they’re diminished, no Stuyven nor Kirsch. Jonathan Milan is a battering ram but the real question is about Pedersen’s form. We got a rough answer last weekend where he was scattering energy around Flanders but at least he was able to do to this and should be fresher and more focused now. Can he afford to race patiently and hope Van der Poel is forced to work more; last week’s outing might convince him to sit tight.

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Patrick Lefevere said that if Remco Evenepoel won Liège then everyone who had been criticising him would have to eat their words about Soudal-Quickstep’s spring classics campaign. That’s alas not happening now. Still his team have won two semi-classics, more than most. It’s been thanks to Tim Merlier. His limits only come when there’s climbing but the hard part for him and the team is constructing the victory, to put him in a place where he can unleash his sprint in the velodrome for the win. Asgreen and Lampaert look made for the race but haven’t bloomed this spring.

Visma-Lease A Bike are having a tough time as well and the absence of Wout van Aert is worth dwelling on as this was supposed to be his big day, a chance to return to the roads where mechanical mishaps cost him the chance to contest the win a year ago. Dylan van Baarle is strong but how to win? Christophe Laporte is much more the archetypal rider, packs a fast finish and absent Van Aert has the keys to the team bus… but he’s been ill so form is unknown.

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Nils Politt (UAE) has been on the podium before and arguably he’s racing better than ever. As we all saw he lost a sprint to Jan Tratnik so it’s probably solo or bust. Tim Wellens adds depth but was probably better suited to last Sunday’s climbs while Mikkel Bjerg comes off fourth place in Flanders and gives more options.

Like Politt, Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) where has also been on the podium but the top step is a leap. This time he and Laurence Pithie can work together but all it takes is one crash or incident and things come undone, they have to hope fortune is on their side this Sunday.

Fred Wright leads Bahrain after Matej Mohorič is out. Movistar are visible with Oier Lazkano and Ivan Garcia Cortina, both muscular riders who be present in the final hour but how to win?

Uno-X have a cohesive squad and Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) looks to be made for the race but has actually struggled on the cobbles and only once made the top-10 while Søren Wærenskjold packs a sprint, Ramus Tiller is strong too. TotalEnergies need a result but a win would be more than an upset, still Dries Van Gestel and Anthony Turgis are their best cards to play.

Paris-Roubaix has sometimes favoured the long-odds riders, the early breakaways and the stalwarts, and supplied fairy-tale endings. Once more? It’s a romantic notion but runs up against the way the race is ridden these days with high speeds, teams not giving the early breakaway any space and the favourites being willing to launch early rather than waiting only to fade the finale. Florian Sénéchal (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) would be the local pick but his spring has been ruined by injury so a result would be even more of a story, instead Luca Mozzato and Jenthe Biermans can hope for a top-10. At 33 Oliver Naesen is getting into the grizzled category but said he had great form in the Ronde on his way to seventh place so look out for him on Decathlon’s home roads. John Degenkolb (DSM Firmenich-PostNL) is a past winner, was seventh last year despite a crash in the finish but he crashed on Friday so this isn’t going to be easy for the 35 year old.

As well old hands finally getting their reward for patience, Paris-Roubaix can also anoint young talent. Alec Segaert (Lotto-Dstny) and Josh Tarling (Ineos) are both are time triallists who can turn on the power while Ineos have Ben Turner too. Per Strand Hagenes (Visma-LAB) is in his debut too but might have less room to race for himself. Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty) won Le Samyn and is an outside tip for many at this race as he’s a strong rider with a big build and a mountain bike background.

Van der Poel
Pedersen, Philipsen
Politt, Van Baarle, Laporte, Merlier
Rex, Küng, Pidcock, Naesen, Milan, Pithie, Degenkolb


Weather: cloudy and a top temperature of 19°C. Crucially a 25km/h wind from the SW which could gust to 40km/h. This means a tailwind for the first half of the race and then for the second half, a crosswind or at least in the general direction of travel as the race twists on its way northwest towards Roubaix.

This is the one race where climate matters as much as the weather. It’s been a very wet winter so the ground is soaked and muddy sectors can endure and over the winter the stones have moved, potholes have appeared in places. As importantly the sides are often soft and riders seeking relief from the pavé by riding on the dirt and grass verges can get bogged down.

TV: live from start at 11.10am CEST to the 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 in most other countries. Arenberg starts around 3.00pm.

Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift: 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 clumsy pick is Lotte Kopecky (SD Worx-Protime) but it’s notable that the team isn’t winning as often this season and races are more open, we’ll see if Marianne Vos (Visma-LAB) can add this to her prolific collection and look out for Zoe Bäckstedt in her Roubaix debut. You’ll find a better informed and proper preview over at

42 thoughts on “Paris-Roubaix Preview”

  1. Hard to see Van der Poel being beaten by anything other than freak misfortune. His biggest rivals are probably being taken down in someone else’s crash, mechanical mishap and collision with an errant spectator. I’m guessing he is fully aware of this and as such will look to be far enough in front to rule out the first and make the last two irrelevant. The stop start entrance to the Arenberg will reward his explosive power and if he isn’t already alone by then he will be at least in a very reduced group of or 3 afterwards.
    I’d like to see a race, some sort of suspense. I’d quite like to see Merlier or Lampaert win. Failing that Degenkolb for the tears.

    • I can imagine VdP being defeated by a disciplined team that commits to team rather than individual win. And is also lucky, so many things that can go wrong.

    • Ineos seem to be turning Nerurkar into a P-R type classics rider which is surprising given that 2023 showed him featuring in the baby giro mountains. The rider must be happy with the pavé direction.

    • He came in after the preview here was done. Curious to see what he does as he has the agility and can go through some of the corners on the pavé at speeds that others cannot. Will give him a chainring but his presence might mean Turner and Tarling change roles.

      Talking of speeds on the cobbles, was hearing how Boonen rode the same corner on the Carrefour de l’Arbre again and again in recon for the 2009 race. When the race day came he was in the lead with Hushovd on his wheel going into the corner and took the tight line he’d practiced and which Hushovd couldn’t manage so the Dane Norwegian crashed leaving Boonen to go solo.

      • A surprise but can’t imagine that Pidcock is there to make up the numbers. He and his team must feel more than single chainring confidence for him to have a place.

      • I don’t think Pidcock’s presence will have much effect on the rest of the team, he’s usually done his own thing anyway. I’m surprised non of the other Ineos riders qualify for a seeding: Turner, Swift jnr. and Tarling is possibly one of the strongest line ups.

  2. Not wanting to start another Chicanery spat here but I’ve been looking at Google Maps and I’ve come up with an alternative solution that I think might be better and fairly easy to implement. If the hairpin chicane being used this year turns out to be a lemon then I think it should be considered. Let me know what you think:

    Traditional route:
    Rue Emile Zola
    Avenue Michel Rondet
    Arenberg (with or without hairpin)

    My proposed alternative:

    There’s an existing chicane on the normal route approx 1km before the Arenberg , just before the crossroads where Rue Emile Zola becomes Avenue Michel Rondet, so the riders will already be slowing down here. Presumably it’s there intentionally to calm motor traffic approaching Arenberg village on the D313.

    50m after the crossroads the next left is onto Place Casimir Périer. The riders would now be onto single carriageway residential backstreets

    After 150m take the second right onto Rue Taffin, which after 300m then merges left to join Rue de Croy, then 400m to turn right onto Rue Desandrouins (at this junction there is a metal staggered gap barrier and large concrete blocks to allow pedestrians but not vehicles. These would have to be temporarily removed for the race which should be fairly easy to do with a telehandler)

    After joining Rue Desandrouins for 50 metres there is then a 75 degree turn back onto Avenue Michel Rondet about 20 metres before the railway crossing just before the Arenberg.

    The combination of all the preceding turns, narrower roads and the final 75 degree turn will guarantee a reduction in Arenberg approach speed.

    The problem of riders fighting for position on the approach to the calming measures and thereby merely moving the hazard to a different point will not apply with this solution , because before everything described above, before the existing chicane on Rue Emile Zola, there are 1000m of wide, more or less straight open roads for any selection and positioning to take place, in the safest way that is reasonably possible in my opinion.

    I think it would work. Problems I could foresee would be local residents objecting to race passing through the quieter side streets rather than along on the main road, and having to move cars out of the way.

    • This subject seems to fascinate people. Next year’s race will take the route you suggest, they just couldn’t arrange how to lift out some of the street furniture and other obstacles in time, the 2024 option is the result of the late intervention of the CPA.

      • If I were in ASO’s shoes, the way I would do it is to work with the local authority to create a 1100m cobbled bike path (2 star sector) running along the disused railway corridor from Rue Edouard Vaillant, along the back edge of the site of the local government offices and the mining museum, then along more of the disused railway through to Rue Desandrouins for a 190m run back to the existing route.

        Between the corners to enter and leave the new sector, the cobbled sector itself and the turn off from Rue Desandrouins onto the Trouee d’Arenberg, that should be enough to string out the field for the Arenberg sector.

        I am, of course, aware that there could be a few things standing in the way of this, right from ‘minor details’ up to the potential that the French people might view a disused rail corridor as being as sacred as le tricolor.

    • Sorry I’m late to the party. I just was looking at this on the map. Won’t this send you into the Forest from the other end??
      And doesn’t that make it downhill on the cobbles?
      They changed it from that direction after Museeuw smashed his knee.
      It’s never going to be “safe.”

  3. Sector 8 is shown correctly on that graphic – it is a combination of two parts with different ratings and a tarmac crossroads dividing them. On the race map there are two connecting lines between the 8 icon and the two parts.

    Sector 16 is also shown twice on that graphic, which does appear to be a genuine typo with one of them supposed to be sector 15.

  4. While waiting for the race tomorrow, have a look back at one of the great PR’s ever:

    Won by a guy who hated the race, had terrible luck (crashed 6 times), and did everything wrong (worked in the winning break although he had no teammates while the heavy favorites did have a teammate; led at the bell; won the sprint off the front). In the rainbow stripes, no less.

  5. I really struggle to see how Alpecin don’t win this. MVDP will attack throughout, and if he can’t get away, switch to lead out for Phillipsen.

    But then I thought the same about GW, where Trek were excellent and MVDP seemed to lack that zip he normally has. Feels like it needs an all in team performance to take them on. Could Visma do something similar?

  6. I didn’t see it live but I assume there was carnage at the chicane before the Arenberg. Everybody seemed so convinced. Hansen’s delusions and all.

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