Paris Roubaix 2018 Preview

The Hell in the North returns this weekend to round off the cobbled classics campaign for this year. Last season saw a pretty hectic race, as always is the case here, with the man of the Spring Greg Van Avermaet winning a small group sprint in the velodrome.

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A frustrated Stybar banged his handlebars as he crossed the line in second place with Langeveld taking a surprising third. Will we see a similar trio on the podium this year; it is unlikely but not impossible. Let’s have a look at what is in store.

The Route

I’m not going to waste your time here, as you will no doubt have read plenty of previews this week that go into the route in-depth with every cobbled sector analysed etc.

PR Profile

257km of mainly flat roads with plenty of cobbles, simple!

Moving on…

The Quick Step Cobble Trotters

Just how do you beat the team that has absolutely dominated the classics campaign and this season so far? That is the question that every DS will be pondering in their sleep tonight.

Luck is arguably the biggest factor in all of if it. Roubaix is a race that you need good luck, or at least not to have any bad luck if you want to compete for the win. Just take the example of Sagan last year who was in the lead of the race twice, but had mechanicals that cost him his chance to fight for the win. Or in the previous year when he was caught up behind a crash early on and never made his way back to the front due to another tumble; the one where he famously avoided a falling Cancellara.

It will be hard for anyone to beat a QS rider but if one can be isolated on their own then they have a chance. Quick Step’s strength lies with the number of riders in their squad that could conceivably win the race. We see it time and time again that they attack quite early with someone to try to force a split and get rid of the other main contender’s domestiques. It normally leaves a group of 30 guys at most that includes 5 Quick-Step guys. From there, every attack that goes will have at least one of them in it and it won’t stay away unless they are there. Ideally for Quick Step, they would want at least two in a group. Flashes of Stannard rolling three of them in Het Nieuwsblad might spring to mind here but they seem like a different beast this year, they have developed much more of a killer instinct. Some would say, they are like a Wolfpack…

The number of options they have also leaves their opposition in a constant state of: “Is this the move I should be going in? Is this the winning attack?”. A mixture of patience, timing and luck (again) then play a part in if you happen to follow the right wheel or not.

If you do happen to find yourself in the right move, then that is the hardest part of the day done. Now you just need to outfox all of the other riders up there with you!

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The Sagan Effect

A lot of the talk pre-race has been a bit of to-ing and fro-ing between Boonen and Sagan in relation to the current World Champion blaming other riders not working with him to take on Quick Step. I would have to agree with Peter on this one; everyone is too concerned about how strong he is that it makes it a bit easier for QuickStep to continue doing what they have done for the past month. I guess that everyone else in the peloton is stuck in between the proverbial rock and a hard place with who they work with or don’t.

Interestingly enough, Sagan has a fairly poor record at this race compared to his usually incredibly high standards with 6th his best result back in 2014. That’s the only time he’s finished in the top 10 here in 6 starts. Nonetheless, he can’t be ruled out tomorrow and I would not be surprised to see him go and lift the title at the end of the day. Yet, I won’t be backing him.

In a break from tradition, I’m going with a slightly different approach rather than naming every contender or hopeful. Instead, I’ll be taking the Countdown method with one from the bottom, middle and top of the order to have a further look at…

The ‘Mat Hayman’ 

A rider for this category has to be someone who has flown fairly under the radar and has to be a massive, massive longshot for the title; need a very particular set of things to happen for them to go close. Someone you’re probably wasting your money on but heck, for the 5 minutes of exciting that they make an attack with 130km to go, worth it.

Mads Würtz Schmit.

Cycling: 20th Santos Tour Down Under 2018 / Stage 5

With one Dane (Mads Pedersen) having a “breakthrough year” on the cobbles, could we see his namesake go well here? Just like Pedersen, Würtz Schmidt is a former winner of Paris Roubaix Juniors, an event he took home back in 2012. An incredibly strong rider on the flat he did a lot of work for Kittel in the recent Scheldeprijs, taking massive turns on the front but it was ultimately to no avail. It’s only his second appearance at this race at pro level (he finished 46th last year) so his potential might still be hidden. He could well fly under the radar if he’s up the road in the morning break, or he could finish in 74th!

The ‘He’s what price?!’ 

Someone in this category might be have been seen as a potential winner a few years ago, or they’ve just been a bit off form lately and not featured in the past couple of races but they might still just have a chance come Sunday. Or at least you’ve convinced yourself of that; I certainly have with the following rider.

Matteo Trentin.

Yup, he somehow falls into this bracket which I find incredibly bemusing as he’s not really been off form that much in the past month. Looking at his result from Flanders suggests he might be on the decline, but his 45th place was due to a crash which consequently meant he lost two minutes on the guys ahead and that was his race done from there. He doesn’t have a great record at this race but in the past he has mainly be used as a very strong domestique for Boonen and co. However, this year he comes into the race as Mitchelton’s leader according to the race preview on their website. Disregarding Flanders, he looked very strong and comfortable in both E3 and Gent Wevelgem. Definitely and outsider to keep an eye on throughout the afternoon. If it comes down to a small sprint in the Velodrome he will fancy his chances.

The Winner

No fancy nomenclature here. If you have kept up with my thoughts on here and my Tweets over the past month then you already know who this is…

Philippe Gilbert.

Ronde van Vlaanderen

Even though he has only raced here once, a 52nd place back in 2007, and that goes against the norm as what it takes to win here; normally a rider needs to be experienced on the cobbles to do well but there are always exceptions. Gilbert is that exception. His win in Flanders was truly incredible and this has been his main target since the start of the season as he continues on his quest to win all 5 Monuments. Over the recent cobbled races he’s played the team-mates role perfectly, marking the opposition out of the race as the rest of his squad attacked. It will be interesting to see how he and Quick Step approach the race; will he go long again like he did in Flanders? If it does come down to a small group finishing together in the Velodrome then like a few others, the Belgian will be happy with the cards he has been dealt.

So that’s that, a slightly different approach to a normal preview but I thought I would try something different as I can’t imagine you will want to read a similar post in the same structure as the countless other previews available for this race. I hope you enjoyed it nonetheless!

Betting

I’ve been aboard the Gilbert train for a while now and tweeted out that I’d placed 2pts on when he was widely available at 15/1. He was even that price until Flanders again so as much as I don’t like doing it, that’s what being marked down in my figures!

Nonetheless, I’d still back him at the following;

2pts WIN Gilbert @ 8/1 with most bookmakers. You might get better odds on the exchange if you’re patient.

1pt EW Trentin @ 80/1 with Bet365. Would take 66/1 available elsewhere, some books paying 4 places.

0.125pt EW Mads Würtz Schmidt @ 500/1 with Betway. Would take down to 350/1.

Thanks as always for reading, I’m looking forward to what should be an exciting race tomorrow. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

Paris Roubaix 2017 Preview

The “Hell in the North” and self-titled “Queen of the Classics” (I’d like to argue about that – it’s no Flanders!) returns this weekend for its 115th edition this weekend. I mean it’s still a cobbled monument, so I’m not going to complain!

Last year’s race saw Mat Hayman take a rather incredible, fairytale victory which I’m sure you’ve already read a lot about this week.

Paris-Roubaix

Can he upset all odds and repeat the feat, or will we get another fairytale with a Boonen win?

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders.

The Route

You know the score by now; 257km including 29 sectors (55km) of pave. Again, I’m not going to bore you with a massive route analysis (like normal), there are plenty of those floating around this week anyway!

PROFIL

The first 150km will sap the legs and I wouldn’t expect too much attacking early on, but you never know after the past few cobbles races we’ve had.

It will be interesting to see who makes the “early” break. I say early, as last year it took over 70km for something to finally go!

The Arenberg will more than likely kick off the action in the peloton and from there anything and everything could happen throughout the afternoon.

A race of attrition and team tactics follows with the notable Carrefour de l’Arbre coming only 15km from the finish line. Will things all still be together then? Will a rider have gone solo? Or will we see a small group?

After that, they have 3 more sections but nothing too tricky on the run in to the famous Roubaix velodrome.

How will the race pan out?

Your guess is as good as mine!

The riders will be happy that the weather is good and there seems to be no wind, but that normally leads to a very fast race from the gun. That coincides with the approach we’ve seen teams take in the cobbled races this year; attacking from further out and trying to split the race up early.

Having a number of strong riders in a squad is important so that someone is always up front, following the moves, meaning that team-mates behind can rest-up.

I think we’ll once again see an attacking race here and it might not be the favourites for the race who come away with the victory.

Contenders

All the pre-race coverage is about Boonen, with this being the last professional race of his career. He hopes to bow out with a win and become the most successful rider at Paris Roubaix of all time!

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I’m going to be very controversial here and say that I don’t care for a Boonen win that much, indifferent is what I would call it. I’m not sure if that’s because I only started following the sport in 2008 and properly started paying attention to all the races in 2010 or so. I can understand the hype around him; he’s going well just now and looked strong in Flanders and Schelderprijs. But I think people are getting too emotional with how much they are hyping him up. He’s been talked up so much that he is now pretty much joint favourite and if I’m honest, I’ve not seen enough from him this year for that to be justified. Benefiting from being on the strongest team, he may well go on to win, which would certainly make for a great story. However, in the words of Simon Cowell…

its a no

Quick Step do have several other riders who can win this race, such as Terpstra, Stybar and Lampaert. The former I have banged on for pretty much all of this month and if it wasn’t for QS supposedly working for Boonen 100%, I’d be all over Terpstra like a rash again. If there is one rider who won’t follow team-orders though, it is the Dutchman. He clawed back the gap on the Paterberg to a fallen GVA convincingly in Flanders, taking around 30 seconds out of Gilbert on that climb. He is clearly going exceptionally well. A former winner of the race, I would not be surprised to see him attacking at some point, and he might solo to victory again!

Sagan was left bitterly disappointed after Flanders, but that’s the risk you take for riding close to the barriers. He looked bashed up at the time but seemed to be going OK in his Scheldeprijs training ride. Often underperforming in this race (his best result is 6th in 2014), I think he finds the easier parcours harder to create gaps on. Furthermore, there is a good chance he will once again be marked out of the race and unlike Flanders, he doesn’t have the tough cobbled climbs to just ride away from everyone. It’s hard to write off the World Champion, but I’m putting my neck on the line and doing just that!

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Greg Van Avermaet starts as my favourite for this race. He’s the form rider of the year so far and if not for the crash in Flanders, he had a great chance of winning that too. Even with that unfortunate moment, he managed to get himself up quickly and still sprint for second place. A rider who can win a small sprint but also isn’t afraid to attack, he has a great chance of winning. I wonder if teams will now show him the same type of respect/fear as they do Sagan? They should, if not, it could be game over for them!

Oliver Naesen has carried on his incredible trajectory to the top of cobbled classic racing. Following on from a strong season last year, he has been even better this year! He seemed to be able to cope with Sagan and GVA in Flanders but unfortunately was taken down in that crash. Sustaining an injury to his knee, he worked hard in Scheldeprijs to test it out and things seem to be OK. Like his training partner Van Avermaet, the Belgian isn’t afraid to attack and I think he will benefit from still be underrated within the peloton.

Aside from those guys, some other names to conjure with are Kristoff, Stannard and Demare, who have all shown good form at points throughout the year. They won’t be the favourites, but can’t be discounted.

There are two proper outsiders (triple figures with the bookmakers) that I’d like to mention.

First up is Edward Theuns. I imagine he’ll be one of the riders given the role of following early attacks, allowing his team-leader Degenkolb to rest behind. Yet, as I said in my Flanders preview, I still think the German is missing that 5% and doesn’t look as good as he did when he won here in 2015. Theuns is capable enough to step-up and with a bit of luck he has a chance, packing a fast sprint after a tough day. I really do hope he is given free rein tomorrow and the Trek DS doesn’t put all their eggs in a Degenkolb shaped basket!

Dwars door Vlaanderen

The other is Dylan Groenewegen. Possibly not the first name to spring to the forefront of your thoughts, this will be the youngster’s first Paris Roubaix. He is someone who I think can go really well in this type of race in the future! Much more than a fast sprinter, he can cope with a hard day in the saddle and with the route being flat, it should suit his characteristics. Like Theuns, with a bit of luck and being in the right move, he could be up there at the end of the day.

Prediction

As I’ve said above, Greg Van Avermaet is my favourite on paper, but this race isn’t won on paper and I think teams will finally approach him the same way that they do with Sagan. That will leave it open to a “lesser” rider, although it’s offensive to call him that after the season he’s had. Oliver Naesen will complete his classics transformation and take an incredible victory!

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Betting

1pt EW Naesen @25/1 with PP/Betfair (paying 4 places – would take down to 20s)

1pt WIN Terpstra @16/1 with various (wouldn’t take less)

The two bets I mentioned yesterday;

0.25pt EW Theuns @200/1 (would take 150/1)

0.25pt EW Groenewegen @250/1 (would take 150/1)

One H2H;

5pts Arndt to beat Laporte at 1/1 with Bet365. (Would take 4/6 lowest)

The German is a very solid one-day racer and finished reasonably well in Flanders. Not so sure about the Frenchman’s credentials on this terrain.

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated (especially some RTs on Twitter 😉). Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! I’m looking forward to what should be a good day’s racing. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.