The third monument of the season is upon us, but more importantly it signals the big ending to the spring cobbled classics, where the narrow cobbled roads of northern France will once again have the best classics riders in the world riding through them.
The race attracts all of the specialists and lots of sprinters alongside, it's a race of endurance, technique, positioning, patience, you name it, but perhaps most importantly, luck. This is one of the very few professional races, maybe the only one where we see dramatic equipment changes, with lots of different setups and where the bike and it's components can really make a difference, in some cases more than the rider itself.
Like it's been for several years, the route will go through a massive 257 kilometers, starting in Compiègne heading north, where the first cobbled sectors will be encountered with just under 100 kilometers of racing, which will make for around 2 hours of racing to settle and establish a breakaway. Also, as it's been the case for some years, the breakaway should be highly contested, which can make for a furiously fast start. The teams controlling should keep a tight leash on who can go free from the pack or not. And most teams will try to have riders in front for strategical purposes later.
And this should be a sight most riders recognize very well. Some will be relieved pleased to go through it, some won't be very happy with it. The Troisville sector, the first of 29 comes with a little over 95 kilometers of racing, it's only 900 meters long, but the initial combination of sectors last year caused some damage in the peloton quite early on. This is the place where the true race starts, some may say.
The second sector between Briastre and Viesly is where last year Michael Goolaerts lost his life, that will overcome any race aspect that can happen as the riders will go through his memorial.
Several cobbled sectors will follow, the 4-star ones include Quiévy to Saint-Python (3700 meters, 141Km to go) and Haveluy to Wallers (2500 meters, 100.5Km to go), this one will come right before the most iconic sector of the race.
Everyone who loves cycling knows it, the Trouée d'Arenberg is "only" 2300 meters but is famed with one of the most traditional view in modern cycling. The full sector is in a straight line but is one technical expertize. Line choice is crucial as the cobblestones in it are of an immense brutality. Adding the huge speed the riders will enter the sector it'll make for maybe the most tense moment of the race, the lead-out to Arenberg sees truly remarcable fights. It starts slightly downhill and turns into slightly uphill, making for a really hard sector to make any accelaration, it's a case of keeping the power up for the entire run. It comes with 93.5Km to go.
Hornaing to Wandignies is 3700 meters long and is the next 4-star sector with 78Km to go, then there's Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières which is 2400 meters long and comes with 68.5Km to go. And with 50.5Km to go there's the Auchy to Bersée sector and it's 2700 meters in lenght, which set the riders up for the following sector.
Obviously, the Mons-en-Pévèle sector, it's 3Km long and finishes with 45Km to go, it will be the second 5-star sector of the race and comes in a crucial time where the decisive attacks are to come.
The final combination of sectors where it's likely to see differences being made is the Camphin-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l'Abre. They are 4 and 5-star sectors respectively, feature 1800 and 2100 meters in distance and come with 17.5Km and 14.5Km to go.
They aren't the final sectors, but with such a brutal race to that point and a very short distance to the finale, it's the ideal place to make a move for everyone who has the legs, the Carrefour de l'Abre sector is one of great technical demand, and need of several accelarations, which is something not all riders will be capable of at that point of the race.
There's still the Willems to Hem sector with 6Km to go, a 3-star sector that's been recently introduced into the race, but it's not usual to see gaps being made there, but who knows, with a group it can happen. The final kilometers will be well known, the entrance in Roubaix in flat roads, in case of a group coming into town it's likely to see some attemps of surprising in it, which will lead to the velodrome, the race's symbol almost, where a deserving winner will emerge from a brutal race.
There will be wind yes, 15-20Km/h with gusts up to 40Km/h, it is enough wind to really make something from it and will make the race even more strategical. The map below is a non-detailed one obviously, but those are the major changes in direction. The lead-up to Arenberg will have a headwind so echelons won't appear there, even though the race will still be quite compact surely.
From there to the Mons-en-Pévèle sector there will be lots of dangrous areas, with exposed roads, cross and tailwinds in most of the route, it will make for an even more stressful race as there's a realistic opportunity to form echelons in.
Carrefour de l'Abre will also have favourable wind like the previous 5-star sector which will help the attackers, but right after the sector there will be somewhat of a headwind which won't be to their pleasure. But from the Willem to Hem sector there will be a tailwind and that will defintely be a motivation. The lead-up to Roubaix will be made in tail and crosswinds so there's a good chance to see riders going solo, and also of small groups trying to go clear and succeeding, as the strenght in numbers won't be as noticeable for a chasing group.
The big guns
Deceuninck had a somewhat disapointing Tour of Flandres. That is, because they didn't win, almost any rider would be pleased with a second place which is what they got. Zdenek Stybar and Phillipe Gilbert looked far from their best, but they will be back after a week of rest, although the two of them likely are more suited to Flandres. Yves Lampaert is the rider that suits best to Roubaix but there's still the lack of a big win in front of the other riders directly, he will be one of the many of the Belgian team and can always be decisive, plus he packs a good sprint. The two outsiders are Le Samyn winner Florian Senechal and Kasper Asgreen. With Senechal replacing Jungels it's by no mean a lack of quality, both these riders have had massive results so far and both are perfectly suited for the race we'll have. Deceuninck will likely try to race agressively as they use to, and try to take the win they feel pressured to have after another successful spring.
As we're accostumed to, Deceuninck's rivals will mainly come in the form of the Belgian classics riders. Greg van Avermaet, the 2017 winner, is still lacking a big win this season. As always he's been very offensive and very consistent all spring long, but the marking he always has keep denying him of a big win, as he also lacks the sprint of some other of his rivals.
Oliver Naesen had been sick previous to Flandres, but it wasn't noticed pretty much, he looked strong as he's been this season and he's looking to build on his 7th place in Flandres, he'll have good support, of last year's runner-up Silvan Dillier, Stijn Vandenbergh and recent Circuit de la Sarthe winner Alexis Gougeard, all powerhouse riders who fit very well into the fast race.
And Wout van Aert, he has 6 race days this season, all World Tour classics and has podiums in Strade Bianche and E3 Binckbank. But he's looked like another rider who could have more, he's been looking very strong the last few weeks in the cobbled climbs, but he's lacked the sense of opportunity needed. As a heavy rider the cobbles of Roubaix should suit him better than the bergs of Flandres, so he's definetely a danger man. He's supported by an experienced and strong team, including Timo Roosen, Mike Teuniseen and Danny van Poppel as an interesting outsider.
The red figure of Lotto Soudal has also been a very active one the last few weeks, but they have lacked a win in the spring classics' cobbles since 2016. Tiesj Benoot and Jens Keukeleire have looked in tip top condition all spring long, and both have been able to get good consistent results. Roubaix should be harder for Benoot but better for the latter, and with a good sprint Keukeleire sees himself as a strong outsider in the start line.
There is Trek, Jasper Stuyven and Edward Theuns the elected Belgians, they looked off for the cobbled classics, Gent-Wevelgem gave a strong impression of a comeback but Flandres proved another disapointment. John Degenkolb won in Roubaix last year in the Tour, so he's a natural contender but there's doubts over if he can actually pull of a good result or remain inconstent. Also to note the presence of Mads Pedersen and powerhouse Ryan Mullen, Trek has a very strong team but it's the form (or perhaps the luck) that's been missing.
Finally on the Belgian side there's Sep Vanmarcke. His performance in Flandres was notable, he contributed massively to Bettiol's win, and perhaps it is the sign that the Belgian can really do something in Roubaix finally. Win that is, as he's finished in the Top4 3 times already. He has Sebastian Langeveld who's been a very strong presence this spring and also Taylor Phinney, 8th last year.
Nils Pollit is the name that pops out. He's still seemingly underated, he was 7th in Roubaix last year, 5th in Flandres this year already. His 80Kg and enormous engine reminds of a past Fabian Cancellara. He has a very strong sprint and is more than proven to be able to deal with long races, he is a big threat for any scenario really.
Team Sky will have an updated bike for Roubaix, which may be a useful modification as the equipment is very important for this race. Dylan van Baarle and Luke Rowe come in as leaders in theory. Both strong rouleurs, they will depend on agressive racing but both are suited. They'll be supported with riders like Ian Stannard and Gianni Moscon who have been protagonists in the race the last few years.
Bahrain-Merida have Matej Mohoric and Ivan Garcia Cortina, Movistar have Jurgen Roelandts and Jasha Sutterlin, Vital Concept and Roompot are lead by Bart de Backer and Lars Boom, also two riders very strong here in the past, and FDJ will have Stefan Kung.
Then there's Edvald Boasson Hagen. He started his season of with a win in Valencia but looked off. But last week in Flandres and in Scheldeprijs he showed very good signs of coming to form, he's a rider very well suited for the race so he's one to look out for.
Sprinters in the game
Well there's lots of riders who haven't been mentioned yet, that's because they are rated as the sprinters, those that can't be taken to the line, those that won't have so much collaboration and those that will cause lack of organization and such race situations.
Peter Sagan will wear the number 1, he is in good form and finds himself in Roubaix as the defending champion. He is in a very particular situation, as the rider he his over the years he's always been heavily marked, forced to chase and cover moves. Last year that changed, Deceuninck had the pressure and the strenght, the first year Sagan wasn't heavily covered he was able to take the win. This year the scenario is similar, and with riders like Oss and Burghardt in the team, Bora is full of experienced and heavweight riders, so Sagan is sure to be well protected.
Alexander Kristoff leads UAE Emirates. A win in Gent-Wevelgem and a third place in Flandres, the distance in Roubaix is similar, it's a route for powerful riders and Kristoff suits perfectly. If he managed to survive the climbs in Flandres he's definetely a big threat for the win here. He has Fernando Gaviria here, he'll lack the support but Emirates have been tactically racing very well and the working won't need to come from them.
There's Matteo Trentin and Arnaud Démare, two strong possibilities but they lacked the power in Flandres. Roubaix suits better, and their sprint makes them good outsiders, and good riders for the Top10.
The other sprinters come as long bets, outsiders that won't likely have a say for the win contention, but are solid for a possible Top10 if they're lucky. Andre Greipel for Arkea, Cristophe Laporte for Cofidis, Arndt/Bol/Walscheid for Sunweb, Petit/Pichot for Direct Energie and Nielsen/Ballerini for Astana.
Strenght in Depth
⭐⭐⭐ UAE, Katusha, Astana, Movistar
⭐ Vital Concept, Delko, Wanty
With the possibility of echelons and plenty of tactical racing, having a strong team depth is more important than ever, specially in such a flat race. Punctures and crashes are a costume so there's also a need for a strong team in those eventualities.
⭐⭐⭐ Sagan, van Aert, GVA,
⭐ Gilbert, Senechal, Asgreen, van Baarle, Degenkolb, Stuyven, Vanmarcke, Langeveld, Benoot, Keukeleire, Trentin, EBH, Démare
I call for Wout van Aert to win. He said it himself that Roubaix suits him better than Flandres, and he's been prestine in every cobbled classic so far. He's in great form, has a great technical ability, needed for the most complicated cobbled sectors. He lack the experience but he was 13th last year in his debut, with a very strong performance. His team is doing very well, so he's my long shot to win a very complicated race.
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