Compiègne > Roubaix 256.6km
The cobbles are calling, it’s time for the hell of the north.
A beautiful day for a bike race. The wind will be around 18km/h at the start of the day, coming from the east. That means a lot of crosswind in the opening stages of the race, which will make it very hard for the break to form. It’s also worth noting that the hardest sectors of the race will have crosswind or cross/tailwind.
Normally, things kick off in the Arenberg Forest, I don’t see this year being any different. After that the key sectors are Mons-en-Pévèle, Camphin-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre but we all know that the winning move can go on the normal road, not the cobbles.
The hard bit. First, we’ll see an enormous fight for the break. This is one of the rare races where being in the break significantly increases your chances of a top 10 result, just think back to when Dillier finished 2nd back in 2018, or Hayman’s win in 2016. The break will not go at the start, most of the big teams would love to sneak a man up the road, so the battle to join the break will be fierce and the elastic will not snap in the first hour of racing.
Once it does go, things will settle down for a while. This is when riders need to stay alert and avoid the inevitable crashes. The winner of this race needs to be incredibly strong, but they also need to be lucky.
Which teams do I expect to control the race? Jumbo-Visma, Alpecin-Fenix, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl and Ineos are the most likely to try and dominate the race, but who will have numbers when the peloton is reduced to 30 riders? This is what it’s all about, not who can ride on the front for the first 100km. This is a race that suits the Alpecin team the most, particularly riders like Merlier, Dillier and Vermeersch. In the hillier races, we often see van der Poel without support in the final 50km, I don’t see that happening in this race.
QuickStep have had a disappointing classics season, but riders like Lampaert, Sénéchal and Ballerini will be confident of being in the mix until deep in the race, which will be a big boost for Asgreen. Despite being dominant in recent races, Ineos have a lot of unknowns in their selection, I’m not sure how many will last deep into the race. Then we have Jumbo-Visma, their hopes of having multiple riders in the front group depends on Van Aert, who’s just recovered from COVID. I think the sensible money would be on Alpecin and QuickStep being the teams with numbers in the finale.
Mathieu van der Poel – his ability in the corners is second to none, in what is to be a very dusty edition of the race, this gives him a huge advantage over his rivals. We saw in the women’s race that the dry conditions also means that riders can drive up the little gully to the side of the cobbles, again, this is perfect for someone with van der Poel’s unbelievable bike handling skills. Alpecin-Fenix arrive with a team of strong men to help support their leader; they look like one of the strongest teams to me. He wasn’t at his very best in Amstel Gold, but he’ll be hoping that with that race in the legs, he arrives at 100% for this race. He can win with a solo attack, and from a reduced sprint, he must start as the big favourite.
Kasper Asgreen – he blew up spectacularly in Flanders, it seemed like a great idea to follow Pogačar’s attack on Oude Kwaremont! Last week he returned to form in Amstel Gold, it was impressive to see him follow the best on the hills. This is a race Asgreen thinks suits him well, he has the power required to smash over the cobbles and put pressure on his rivals. Much of his success will depend on team support, can QuickStep eventually return to their usual level? If he’s isolated, Asgreen won’t be winning.
Mads Pedersen – there’s been a lot of talk about him for Roubaix, despite not having a track record in this race, apart from winning the junior edition. His form this year has been very impressive, but can he follow the very best on the pavé? I’m not so sure.
Wout Van Aert – it’s impossible to predict how he’ll react to this race after his recent COVID positive. All I will say is that the best athletes are capable of incredible feats.
Christophe Laporte – crashes ruined his chances in Flanders and Amstel, he’ll be hoping for better luck in this race. The Frenchman has been one of the riders of the season, the home public will be hopeful of their first win since 1997. His chances will be increased if Van Aert can last deep into the race, if not, I fear he’ll just be fighting for another step on the podium.
Ineos – who will be their best rider? Sheffield is in wonderful form, but surely, he’s too young to cope with the severity of this race. Van Baarle is normally around 20th place in this race, it’s hardly a glowing recommendation. Ganna is coming with a lot of hype, but a win for him would be a big surprise. I think their best option could be Ben Turner, despite him being a first-year pro. His CX ability will be a big help, and his current form has been very impressive.
Stefan Küng – top 10 in E3, DDV, Flanders and Amstel! What a season he’s having. He was 11th here in 2019 and he’s also impressed in Paris-Tours, he’s got every chance of making the front group in the closing stages. As he lacks a sprint finish, he’s the perfect rider for someone to drive with until the very end.
Yves Lampaert – illness ruined the early part of his season, but recent signs have been positive. This is the race in the calendar that he always marks, it’s the one that suits him best. Starting without pressure will be something new for him, it could help him to ride with freedom and aggression. His last two trips here ended in him finishing 3rd and 5th, can he eventually land the big one?
Jasper Stuyven – this is a race I always mark him down for. He’s one of many riders who’ll be frustrated with his 2022 season, but that doesn’t mean he can’t challenge for the win on Sunday. He’s not raced since Flanders, arriving fresh could give him a slight advantage over some of his main rivals.
His team are strong, and the conditions should make the road suit him perfectly. I’ll take a win for Mathieu van der Poel.