Paris Roubaix for dummies …
Nice little bit of animation here produced by race organisers ASO . . .
All back as one out on the road. They are just under 20km from the opening section of cobbles where it will be all about positioning. |The best position, of course, is on the front while nobody who is hoping to contest the win will want to be stuck behind any crashes.
So John, what makes this race so special?
I met up with 2015 winner John Degenkolb a while back and asked him this very question. This is what he said:
“For me these races are the most historic and the most traditional, especially Roubaix. It’s over a 100 years old on the same parcours – the same roads – literally. They have replaced a few cobblestones here and there, but the roads are basically the same as back in the 1800s. That’s what makes Paris-Roubaix so special, so unique. Even training there gives you a special feeling, riding into the Forest of Arenberg which is a very unique place.
“Since the beginning, when I started learning about cycling, I was in love with these races, especially Roubaix which I would say is my favourite. For me it was a childhood dream come true to win the race in 2015.
“That’s something I want to achieve again, to get another victory at Roubaix is, for me, the dream. From my heart, that’s the most important victory I ever got.”
But how did you discover your love for the cobbles?
“At a certain moment in your career, while racing in the youth ranks, you do races on the cobbles and you soon discover if you like it. If you are a climber weighing 60kg, then you won’t have fun there. Obviously I weigh more than 60kg and it didn’t take long for me to discover I was made for the classics and the cobbles.”
The history boy
The leading trio has increased its advantage out to a shade over 30 seconds, while further back an unidentified rider from the French Pro-Continental team Delko-Marseille Provence is putting in an effort in an attempt to bridge the gap. Incidentally, a little bit of history is being made today by that team who have Joseph Areruya riding for them.
Areruya today has become the first rider from Rwanda to compete at Paris-Roubaix. A big, big day for Rwandan cycling and, of course, for the 23-year-old.
200km to go
Mads Pedersen is back on the front and the Trek-Segafredo rider has been joined by Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jürgen Roelandts (Movistar). The trio have a handful of seconds on the peloton. Despite riding into this cross headwind, the riders are making fairly good time today.
210km to go
The next rider to put his nose into the wind is Silvan Dillier (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the Swiss who last year finished second behind Peter Sagan. Incidentally, the road to Roubaix today is going into a headwind so any rider attempting to get into a breakaway will have to work a little harder than they would like.
First crash of the day . . .
Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) and Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) appear to have had a coming together. Not entirely sure what happened, but the two Belgians were just spotted picking themselves up off the asphalt. Nothing too serious, there will be much worse to follow once the riders hit the cobbles. Of that, I’m almost certain.
215km to go
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) have managed to chip their way off the front though have only managed to gain a handful of seconds. Pedersen, of course, finished second at last year’s Tour of Flanders but was hugely disappointed with his performance a week ago. According to reports, the young Dane was so upset with his DNF he apologised to all of his team-mates and the backroom staff at his team. Today, I’m guessing, he’s riding for John Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven.
All smiles . . .
. . . from the 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet who was just spotted giving the TV camera a wave while riding alongside CCC team-mate Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who happens to be the grandson of 1963 road world champion Benoni Beheyt.
Speaking on Saturday, Van Avermaet admitted an outsider could win today, though still reckons Van Aert, Stybar and Sagan are the ‘big favourites’.
“I’ve had a good race in Flanders (10th) and I’m very motivated to do well and have a good result in Roubaix,” the Belgian said.
“In Flanders, it was tight racing and it was hard to create differences. Roubaix is a different race, very hard, and with wind I hope there will be opportunities to split the peloton.
“Many riders can win, we could see an outsider, but I think the biggest favorites are Van Aert, Stybar and Sagan.”
By the way, there will be one unfamiliar kit out on the road today. As had been reported in the French media in recent weeks, ProContinental team Direct Énergiebrought in a new title-sponsor and so are now called Total-Direct Énergie. They have ditched the black and yellow kit and adopted a blue and white kit with flashes of red, as modelled below at the start line in Compiègne.
Their leader, Niki Terpstra who won the race in 2014, is absent today after suffering a nasty looking crash at last week’s Tour of Flanders. I fully expect Damien Gaudin to get involved in the action later . . . before fading in the final 50km.
By the way, Lennard Kämna (Sunweb) bridged over to Gruzdev before the pair were reined back in. Almost immediately and Magnus Cort (Astana) countered. A number of riders, though, closed down the Dane and with 230km remaining there is no lone leader or breakaway.
And we’re off!
I know I said I was going to get this thing started at around 11am, but like Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana) I cannot contain myself. This, for me, is the greatest bike race of the year and even though there’s 240km of this race remaining, we may as well get stuck into it, eh? The Kazakhstan rider, by the way, has escaped off the front of the main bunch and is forging ahead. The 33-year-old who is starting his seventh Paris-Roubaix today leads by just 20sec after briefly holding an advantage of 30sec.
Who are the favourites for today’s race?
A little bit like last week’s Tour of Flanders, today appears to be a very open race. Throughout the spring classics there has been no one rider that has stood out above the others. True, Deceuninck-Quick Step have been the team of the year so far, but a couple of their riders have been suffering with illness of late and so we will have to wait to see how that impacts on their hopes today. That said, here’s a quick run down on some of the riders I expect to be in the mix today . . .
Best result: Winner (2018)
Despite having failed to finish on the podium in a single one-day race this season, the reigning champion is here today as one of the favourites. Following a bout of illness, the three-time world champion has been inching back, but appears a little way off his best. That said, he finished alongside many of the pre-race favourites at Flanders after outsider Alberto Bettiol had ghosted his way to victory. Sagan was unable to find co-operation in the chase, though clearly felt he had the legs to give it a crack. After his huge turn on the front the previous week at Ghent-Wevelgem now could be the time for him to show why, despite any obvious signs, he remains the bookies’ favourite.
Best result: Winner (2015)
“To get another victory at Roubaix is, for me, the dream,” the 2015 winner told Telegraph Sport the end of last year. A year ago the idea of the popular German winning another Paris-Roubaix title may have seemed fanciful, but recent performances would suggest the 30-year-old is nearing something like the form he enjoyed four years ago.
Greg Van Avermaet
Best result: Winner (2017)
Despite having not win a cobbled classic since 2017, podium finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 and a top-10 finish at the Tour of Flanders would suggest a big win could be in the post for the veteran Belgian. Will need to keep his cool and ride a little more cleverly than he did at Omloop if he is to pull off a repeat of his victory here in 2017.
Team: Deceuninck-Quick Step
Nationality: Czech Republic
Best result: Runner-up (2015, 2017)
Along with team-mates Kasper Asgreen, Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, the former cyclo-cross world champion is one of many strong cards available to the under-pressure Deceuninck-Quick Step. Having won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 arrives in great form, but will Lady Luck smile upon him when it matters most?
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Age: 31 Best result: Ninth (2013)
It may seem odd to discover that Kristoff has yet to stand on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, but after rolling back the years during the spring classics, the big Norwegian was this week tipped by Johan Museeuw to lift his first plinth-mounted cobble. Has showed excellent form with a win at Ghent-Wevelgem and third at the Tour of Flanders.
Wout Van Aert
Best result: 13th (2018)
Along with Mathieu van der Poel, the former world cyclo-cross champion has been an absolute revelation in his first season with a WorldTour squad. Has proved himself on all terrains and across all distances with two podium finishes – at Strade Bianche and E3 – this season and finished in the main group at the Tour of Flanders.
Team: Ag2r-La Mondiale
Best result: 12th (2018)
Whether tackling the cobbles, getting over the Poggio or sitting on the wheels of the bigger heavier sprinters, Naesen has been there or thereabouts at the business end of proceedings throughout the spring classics. Team-mate Silvan Dillier finished second last year which may be a card the Ag2r-La Mondiale directors are able to play on the road.
Welcome: the calm before the storm
Morning everybody and welcome to our live rolling blog from today’s Paris-Roubaix, the 117th edition of the race nicknamed the Hell of the North.
Whether or not Paris-Roubaix is the toughest one-day race in the world of cycling remains a moot point, particularly if you are Belgian, but is is certainly one of the most evocative.
Possibly one of the most unique races in world cycling due to the extensive sections of pavé, or cobblestones, that pepper the course, The Hell of the North can be decided as much by luck and bravery as tactical acumen.
Following Milan-Sanremo and last weekend’s Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix is the third monument of the season – the other two being Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
Despite its title, the race no longer departs from the French capital after organisers, in 1968, moved the start line to the town of Compiègne, around 60km north of Paris.
Unsurprisingly, Paris-Roubaix had been dominated by the Belgians who have won 56 of the 116 editions. France has had 28 victories.
No British rider has ever won the race, though three have stood on the third step of the podium – Barry Hoban (1972), Roger Hammond (2004) and Ian Stannard (2016).
At 257 kilometres it is long and with 29 sections of cobblestones covering a distance of 54.5km, roughly a fifth of the total distance raced, it is a race that could only have ever been conceived of in 1896. The health and safety suits – even the French ones – would have heart attacks if the concept of Paris-Roubaix was handed to them in 2018.
In the meantime, why don’t you go make yourself a brew and have a browse through our package of big-race preview content …
As with all WorldTour races, each of the 18 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling receive an invite and in the case of the Ronde all teams are contracted to race.
In addition to the WorldTour teams, race organisers ASO handed wildcard spots to seven Pro-Continental teams – Arkéa-Samsic, Cofidis Solutions Crédits, Delko-Marseille Provence, Direct Énergie, Roompot-Charles, Vital Concept-B&B Hotels and Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
While we are waiting for the real racing to get under way, have a listen to the latest episode of The Cycling Podcast in which the team pick over the bones from last Sunday’s thriller in Flanders before, of course, discussing today’s race . . .
Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe produce these rather excellent podcasts throughout the season covering the one-day races, stage races and grand tours and get this: they’re free. Obviously, it would be better if you gave them some money so to do that, make sure you sign up – for just £15– and become a Friend of the Podcast.
Right folks, while you digest the above information I’m off to grab a coffee and a croissant. The live blog ‘proper’ will be getting under way at around 11am – the riders then should be about 50km from the opening sector of cobbles at Troisvilles à Inchy