Compiègne > Roubaix 256.2km
For many people it’s the best race in the year, I’d say second best, but let’s not fall out about it. Paris-Roubaix is a brut of a race, one for the warriors in the peloton, it never lets us down. This year we arrive with van der Poel looking incredibly strong, and a few of his main rivals are showing some weakness, but this race can turn the form book on its head.
A nice day, with a little bit of sun and not much wind.
Midweek rain left the cobbles muddy just on Thursday, we’ll have to see how they look come Sunday.
Both Ineos and Jumbo-Visma arrive weakened compared to last year, this will have a significant impact on how they ride the race. On the other hand, Alpecin look very strong to me, I love the look of the team they bring here to support van der Poel. Three of the team (van der Poel, Philipsen & Groves) are currently riding at an extremely high level, add to that a rider who’s finished 2nd here (Dillier), two riders who are very strong on this terrain (Vermeersch & Gogl) and an excellent positioner (Rickaert). You can see why I think they are the strongest team in the race.
Jumbo-Visma have dominated the cobbled classics, but not the monuments, will this continue? Van Baarle was going to be a brilliant option for them in this race, but he’s not raced since crashing in E3, which isn’t ideal preparation. Mat Hayman showed that you can win this race without racing in the legs, but that is an anomaly, he’s the only one to have done this. Van Aert crashed in Flanders, and he’s said he isn’t at his best, but hopes to be on Sunday. Van Hooydonck has been brilliant this year, but he missed the recon after being sick, again, not ideal. Then we have Laporte, who took brilliant wins in Gent-Wevelgem and Dwars door Vlaanderen, but he’s not at the same level as someone like van der Poel. More so than ever, Jumbo-Visma need to get ahead of the race, but that’s easier said than done.
This race is rare in so many ways, one such peculiarity is that the breakaway can go the distance, which means everyone wants to be in it. Hayman won from the break in 2016 and Dillier was 2nd in 2018, if you can’t win from the front group then the breakaway is the logical option. We’ve seen the fight for the break take hours, and last year we got the weird situation of seeing a huge group get away before the cobbles. The opening 90 minutes is crucial to the structure of the race, Alpecin need to be attentive, break management is very important.
Once the break goes, the “real” action normally kicks off in the Arenberg Forrest. From that point onwards, each section of cobbles is used to slim down the peloton and drop domestiques. Teams know the score; they will try to keep as many men as possible in the peloton to ensure a tactical advantage in the finale. Doing this requires great legs but also a large slice of luck.
When the bunch hits Mons-en-Pévèle, the cream will rise to the top and we’ll see what type of race we’ll get. A long-range attack can be successful, but this is a race where predictions are often ripped up and forgotten about, unfortunately I still need to try!
Alpecin will mark riders from Jumbo-Visma and Ineos, but a group of tier 2 favourites will no doubt get an advantage at some point. Once into the final 50km, the big attacks will start, and they won’t stop. I don’t see many teams with a secondary leader strong enough to win, I think we’ll see a battle between the best and the strongest winning.
Mathieu van der Poel – was disappointed not to win last weekend, but he was still very impressive. He’s already won two editions of Flanders and Milano-Sanremo, this is a great opportunity to win his fourth monument, and then he can start to dream about winning all five. As I’ve explained, his team are very strong, I expect them to provide excellent support throughout the whole race. After starting the season, a little on the slow side, I think his form is still growing, that’s something which should worry everyone else. Things haven’t quite clicked for him in previous editions of this race, he’ll hope everything goes to plan and he can fight for the win.
Wout Van Aert – bruised his ribs in his crash last Sunday, that’s hardly ideal for riding on cobbles. Van Aert is an incredible cyclist, easily one of the best in the world, but there continues to be lingering doubts about his ability to win monuments. He took Sanremo in 2020, but I would have expected more wins considering how good he is. Often, we see him struggling in the longest races, he seems to have a slight weakness deep into these days. I’m sure this is something Jumbo-Visma will have looked at and tried to fix, but the same old problem came up last weekend. To win this race, Wout needs to be fully fit, not feeling any pain, and he also needs a huge ride from his team.
Filippo Ganna – there’s been a lot of noise about his participation, I’m looking forward to seeing how he gets on. He’s got the engine and power required to do well, but he’s never struck me as the best bike handler. I don’t think he starts with any pressure; he’ll see how deep he can last and hope he can solo away from the front group.
Kasper Asgreen – I was really impressed by him in Flanders, always at the front at the right time. His final position of 7th didn’t really do his ride justice, but Kasper will have gained confidence from it and approaches Roubaix looking to win. Soudal – Quick Step will hope they are finding form at the right point, both Lampaert and Sénéchal will hope to go deep into the race, the cobbles suit them.
Mads Pedersen – another who impressed in Flanders, that was a huge ride by him. His record here isn’t good, he’s not finished in the top 50 in 5 attempts, he’d love to put that right on Sunday. He’ll look to attack before the main action kicks off in the peloton, riding a similar race to last weekend makes a lot of sense.
Stefan Küng – 3rd last year, he’d love to better that result. Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of King Küng, his level of consistency in the classics is very impressive. The problem with winning is his sprint, he needs to go solo, which is obviously very hard.
Florian Vermeersch – 2nd back in 2021, but he’s not managed to kick on. This year has been promising, he made the front split in Flanders, and I sense that better days are coming. He’ll look to go long.
Mathias Norsgaard – I’ll take him as my breakaway pick. Norsgaard made the break in Omloop and E3, I hope he risks it all by trying to join the morning move. This is a race he loves, but he won’t win from the peloton, although, going for the break is risky.
I think it’s about time we see Mathieu van der Poel winning the big stone.