by Fabio Valente (twitter: @cyclingideas_)
The first edition of one of the most loved cycling races in the world dates back to 1896, when two french textile manufacturers working in Roubaix decided to create a velodrome in their home town. They then developed the idea of a competition starting from Paris and heading to their new track, covering about 280 kms of cobbled streets and narrow paths through the woods of the northern part of France: the Paris-
Roubaix was born.
The start of the race was then moved to Chantilly in 1966 and then put in Compiegne, where the race has had its beginning since 1977. Paris-Roubaix earned lots of addictional names: one of the most characterizing of them is The Hell of the Nord or L’enfer du Nord, referring to the hellish condition of this race, especially when riders have to face the two king pavè sections of Trouèe d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre. One of the five monuments in the cycling calendar, Paris-Roubaix has established itself as the Queen of the Classics due to its history, tradition and enormous difficulty. Only Tom Boonen
and Roger de Vlaeminck have been able to lift their arms 4 times in the velodrome of Roubaix, holding the record of most wins in the race. Of the whole peloton of active riders, just Niki Terpstra, Greg Van Avermaet, Matthew Hayman and John Degenkolb have a win in Roubaix.
The toughest of the flat races, this 2018 edition of Paris-Roubaix starts from Compiegne to end in the velodrome of Roubaix, covering a total of 257 kms. The pavè sectors will be a scaring number of 29, the first of them coming roughly before the 100 km mark in the race. As mentioned before, the two king ones are number 19 and number 4, respectively Trouèe d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre. The first one, coming with 95 km to go and measuring 2.4 km of length, is a 5 stars one, or “a piece of shit”, using Tom
Boonen’s words. Maybe the most awaited section of the whole Sunday, it is for sure one of the first real selection point of the race. Carrefour de l’Arbre, which will be faced with just 17 km to go, measures 2.1 km and has a 5 stars rate too: I have no doubt to define it as the most challenging sector of the whole race due to the irregular, angular cobbles the riders has to ride on.
A late attack here is something I always dream of. Some other sectors to keep an eye on are numbers 11, 15 and 5, all 4 stars ones: measuring from
1.8 to 3 km, they are all perfect terrains where an attack can be launched or a previous selected group can gain an advantage on the chase behind them.
Given the current status of the cobbled zones of the race and looking at the weather forecast of the last days, we could have one of the best editions of Paris-Roubaix of the last decades. Wet pavè sectors could be as scary as riding on muddy cobbles all the day and both scenarios are something we could see happening on Sunday after the strong rains we had in the last few days.
Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix have done a nice work of cleaning up the roads as much as possible, but the hidden dangers of the french irregular cobbles are impossible remove. During the race, temperatures will be the lovely ones of the conti
nental Europe, dancing between 14 and 20 °C, while chances of showers will be very low on Sunday. Almost no wind at all expected, but a race like Paris-Roubaix doesn’t need it to be an exciting one: the recon rides have already highlighted the muddy and tricky conditions of the roads, so…
Team strenghth and contenders (prices from b365)
Of the last ten editions of Paris-Roubaix, five were won with a solo action (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014) while the other five saw a win coming from a group of two (2013), three (2008), four (2016), five (2017) or six (2015) elements. I’m pretty sure we will have again a similar situation coming into the Roubaix velodrome, with no more than 5-6 riders setting up the final sprint. Lots of places could offer a chance for a long-range move or a solo attack, one of them surely is Carrefour de l’Arbre, where I’m expecting some interesting things to happen with just 17 km to go.
Odds’ favourite, as usual in almost all the belgian races of the year, is Peter Sagan (4/1) riding in the world champion jersey as the captain of Team Bora-Hansgrohe. The slovak master starts the race as one of the favourites but having all the other riders marking him will not encourage him to attack. Still, he is one of the
best in the world talking about riding the bike in tricky conditions and this will be something highly required
on Sunday. Wet cobbles and muddy roads will not be a problem for him and his fast sprint can be an
important advantage if coming with just a few opponents into the velodrome. For one time, his team could
prove a vital help: if Daniel Oss and Marcus Burghardt will keep the race together as long as possible,
Sagan’s chances grow even more.
Obvious mention for almost the whole Quick-Step Floor squad: the wolfpack has won almost everything possible in Begium this year and their eyes are already on the Roubaix trophy, which looks a very realistic goal for them. They have at least three candidates for the monument: Philippe Gilbert (8/1), Niki Terpstra
(7/1) and Zdenek Stybar (10/1). The belgian will start the race as the leader of the team and has chances to win the race both with a well-timed long attack or with a furious sprint in the velodrome. Terpstra comes to the french race as the strongest man in the team, after wins in E3, Le Samyn and Ronde van Vlaanderen.
Looking for his 4th belgian trophy of the year, he is a great second chance for QS, having already won PR one time. Same can be said for Zdenek Stybar: even if still with zero wins in 2018, the czech has the most top10 in Paris-Roubaix than anyone else starting on Sunday. He is in the best team in the world to win this
race, will he take it? He can.
Team BMC fields the experienced veteran Greg Van Avermaet (7/1), who has a great shout to win this race. Even if not in the form of his life, the belgian loves an hard day out there. He has already a win in Roubaix and loves the fast finish in the velodrome as he is capable of winning from a little group of opponents. He has the power to suddenly attack on the most difficult sections of pavè and select a group or
even go solo: I would love to see him doing something like that towards the end. Trying to help him taking the cobbled sectors in a good position and keeping the race together until the end will be Stephen Kung and on-form Jurgen Roelandts, two valid helpers in this kind of races.
Taking the whole hopes of Team Drapac-Education First on his shoulders is the eternal Sep Vanmarcke (14/1): cobbles are his perfect terrain and without his proverbial bad luck, Sunday could be a very good day for him. I can’t imagine a scenario where Sep wins honestly, as he lacks speed in a possible little group sprinting in the velodrome. He must attack from a long distance, maybe in a hard pavè sector trying to
distance his main opponents but it will be a difficult task for him. He has the form to try something though as he has been one of the strongest man in the last few one-day races. Avoiding any kind of crash or mechanical in a tricky day like tomorrow will be a great achievement for an unlucky rider like Sep.
Team SKY has a very interesting lineup for this race: Gianni Moscon (28/1) looks to be the captain of the brit team but his poor showing so far has not convinced me very much. I still think he can surprise with a magnificent performance Sunday and his price seems a very good one to me. This is a race which suits very well Moscon’s qualities and I would not be surprised to see him in the leading group in the velodrome.
Dylan Van Baarle (66/1) could do the same after showing good form in the last Ronde. Ian Stannard (50) and Geraint Thomas (40/1), even if the first is not in his best form and the latter has other goals for the season could both play an important role for the team or on their own on Sunday.
Slowly coming back to his best form is John Degenkolb (20/1) for Team Trek-Segafredo. The german has already a win in the Roubaix velodrome and looks for a repeat. He had a decent run in the Ronde, but he gave up as Trek’s captain was Stuyven. Honestly, I think his price is not very appealing for this Paris-Roubaix: Degenkolb deos not look good enough to me at the moment to take this race once again. Trek could also play the Jasper Stuyven (20/1) card as the belgian keeps posting impressive results in the one-
day classics. He can follow moves and he can attack, he has a powerful motor and a good sprint, so why not?
Not to forget Trek has also a danish guy called Mads Pedersen (28/1) who showed all his skills in the last few weeks, being one of the most impressive riders in the Ronde. Hard to think he will be with the strongest ones in this Roubaix too: his price is also too low to deserve a try.
Talking about teams with a lone leader, Groupama FDJ has Arnaud Demare (20/1) in fine form. The french will race his home race coming from great performances throughout the whole last month. He stands a nice chance but he will have to keep eyes open as his team will be pretty much absent in this race: if able to keep the wheels of the strongest men, he will be a dangerous opponent in the velodrome. An hard task for him to be in the right group, but he can.
Similar talk can be made for one of the possible surprises of this Paris-Roubaix, Oliver Naesen (28/1), captain of the other french team AG2R. The belgian champion has showed how strong he is in the Ronde, recovering after a crash which almost put him out of contention. One of the best while riding on pavè, Naesen can be part of the selected group coming into the velodrome but his sprint is not a notable one. Still, his price is very interesting given his form and strenghth.
Finally, last names which I would like to spend a few words on:
Wout van Aert, Alexander Kristoff, Edvald Boasson Hagen and the Sunweb duo formed by Ed Theuns and Mike Teunissen.
The belgian cyclocross
champion Wout Van Aert (28/1, Veranda Willems) will surely like the tricky and muddy conditions of this Paris-Roubaix. He will be used to ride his bike on this terrain and he looks more and more comfortable with road races, race after race. Maybe he still lacks some experience to win a race like Paris-Roubaix but he is brave enough to attack and I would not be surprised to see him leading some late moves on Sunday.
Alexander Kristoff (28/1) is Team UAE’s best card: he has some form and raced as a protagonist in all the last one-day classics, looking strong also on some cobbled climbs which are not his most-loved terrain. Sunday’s race could be a good one for him but I think he will struggle a bit to follow the strong moves of Sagan, GVA and company.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (28/1) will carry Team Dimension Data’s hopes after
some strong performances in the last couple of classics he raced: he has a strong sprint and he can follow the wheels of the best men in the peloton on cobbles too, but I don’t think we will see him in the right move in the end as he often loses the right move when it counts. About Team Sunweb, they can try something with on form Mike Teunissen (80/1) or belgian Ed Theuns (150/1): they are both strong riders and the belgian also has a fast kick for a little group sprint, but I’m not sure we will see any of them in the
final kms fighting for the overall success.
Little chances but worth a mention are Team Astana with Magnus Cort Nielsen (40/1), Team Katusha withTony Martin (50/1), Team Bahrain Merida with Heinrich Haussler (50/1), Team Lotto Soudal with Jens
Keukeleire (200/1), Team Direct Energie with Adrien Petit (150/1), Team Mitchelton SCOTT with former winner Matthew Hayman (80/1).
Right at the point, even if we are talking about one of the most unpredictable races of the year, even more when the weather makes it an hellish one.
I’m going with Philippe Gilbert as my main pick at 8/1, followed
by Oliver Naesen at 28/1 and Jasper Stuyven at 20/1 all EW.
Little try on Gianni Moscon at 28/1 and Dylan Van Baarle at 66/1, always EW.
Outside bets: Jens Keukeleire at 200/1 and Matteo Trentin at 80/1, both
Thanks for reading!