Paris-Roubaix Preview and Predictions
On Sunday, Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North, will take place. This year’s edition will be 253.5 km long, with 52.7 km of them on pave. Three of the race’s pave sectors will appear in Stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France. As always, the sectors will be rated in difficulty from one (the easiest) to five (the hardest) based on length, unevenness, condition, and location. This year, neither Fabian Cancellara (Trek) or Tom Boonen (Etixx-Quick Step), two riders who have dominated the race recently, will participate because of crash injuries. Their absence will make the race more unpredictable than usual, but as always at Paris-Roubaix, the course determines the outcome as much as the riders do.
The race will start at Compiegne, on the outskirts of Paris. After 98.5 km of flat but rolling terrain, the riders will reach Section 27, the first section of cobbles (the sectors are numbered in descending order from first to last), at Troisvilles. The next seven sections will be twos, threes, and fours. At 158 km, the field will enter the Arenberg Forest, one of three fives on this year’s course. Historically, the Arenberg has had a determining effect on the outcome of the race, with the cobbles causing crashes, mechanicals, injuries, and abandons. Things will probably be no different this year.
After the Arenberg, the peloton, or what remains of it, will tackle six threes and fours before reaching Mons-en-Pevele at 204.5 km. A rider who wants to try a long run to the finish might attack here or just before it. After this sector, the riders will tackle a series of relatively easy sectors—mostly twos and threes—before going over the Carrefour de l’Arbre, the race’s last five, at 236.5 km. This sector will be followed by two twos and a one. If the course has not determined the winner, then a sprint in the Roubaix velodrome will. The winner will hoist a mounted cobble, a reminder of a Sunday in Hell, over his head.
Who will hoist the cobble on Sunday? The most likely candidate is Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). The Norwegian has won consistently since February, and he won the Tour of Flanders last week and Scheldeprijs yesterday. In addition, he has won Three Days of De Panne and finished just off the podium at E3 Harelbeke. He has the strength to handle the cobbles and then sprint at the end. Kristoff is not a prohibitive favorite, but he is a strong one.
Defending champion Niki Terpstra has excellent form. The Dutchman finished second at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders. With Etixx-Quick Step’s strategy of trying to put Zdenek Stybar and Terpstra in the lead group in the late stages of the race, an attack by Terpstra could get away. He will not be underestimated this year, as perhaps he was in 2014, and the Dutchman might be followed if he attacks.
Zdenek Stybar is a good candidate to win a small group sprint. In 2015, the Czech has won Strade Bianche, taken the runner-up spot at E3 Harelbeke, and finished ninth at the Tour of Flanders. He is a good candidate to win a small group sprint.
John Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin) won Milan-San Remo last month, and he finished second in last year’s Paris-Roubaix. The German has the strength to handle the course’s length and cobbles and the speed to take a sprint. If he is in a small group in the Roubaix velodrome, betting against him would be dangerous.
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) had a bad day at the Tour of Flanders, but he has demonstrated an ability to ride with the best on the cobbles. This year, he has finished fourth at Strade Bianche, fifth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, fifth at E3 Harelbeke, and sixth at Gent-Wevelgem. In 2013 and 2014, the Belgian finished second and fourth, respectively. He has the horses to win.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) is another rider who has the horses to win. He has knocked on the door of success for some time. In 2013, he finished fourth at Paris-Roubaix, and in 2015 he has won a stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and finished sixth at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, second at Strade Bianche, and third at the Tour of Flanders. The door has never quite opened for the BMC man, however, and it will not do so on Sunday.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) finished fourth at Milan-San Remo, fourth at the Tour of Flanders and 10th at Gent-Wevelgem. Sagan has the ability to win, but he does not seem to have his best form. His usual high finish is to be expected, but a victory could be more than the Slovak can deliver.
Geraint Thomas (Sky) has raced well in the cobbled classics. He won E3 Harelbeke and finished third at Gent-Wevelgem. However, the Welshman might not be a free agent, as Bradley Wiggins will be on Sky’s Paris-Roubaix squad. If Thomas gets an opportunity to ride for himself, however, he could wind up on the podium.
Wiggins is an interesting dark horse. The Briton finished ninth last year, and he finished third in the 2015 Three Days of De Panne. He appears to be peaking at the right time. However, the Briton is at a disadvantage compared with classics specialists such as those riders mentioned above. He can ride well enough for a reasonably high placing, but not well enough to win.
For a complete report on Paris-Roubaix, check in at www.roadcycling.com.
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