One of my recent Twitter polls asked if we preferred a brilliant edition of Paris-Roubaix or a Tour de France decider on Ventoux/Alpe d’Huez/The Tourmalet. With 57% of the vote Paris-Roubaix was the winner and it’s considered by many to be the best racing of the season. I’ll always have love for the Grand Tours but there’s no denying I’ve been gearing up for Roubaix over the last few months. It’s the Hell of the North, one hell of a race and this year we’ve got one hell of a startlist. Here are my quick picks.
What an incredible race we saw last season. Several subplots unravelled and we were left with a group containing four-timer Tom Boonen, Quick-Step slayer Ian Stannard, perennial bridesmaid Sep Vanmarcke, a resurgent Edvald Boasson Hagen and 37 year-old early escapee Mathew Hayman. They all threw punches before Hayman stunned the world by powering to victory inside the velodrome. It was excellent. The Queen of the Classics served up a sensational Sunday.
Nothing quite so romantic can happen this year other than Boonen retiring with a fifth Roubaix victory. He’ll start as second favourite and has looked in serious form over the last few weeks. He seems focussed to the point of tunnel vision and was fantastic when setting up Philippe Gilbert for a wonderful victory in Flanders. However, he won’t be getting my money this weekend as I look to take on Quick-Step yet again. I called for a Sagan Roubaix success back in January but the bookies squeeze us out with their horribly short prices.
The Winner – Greg Van Avermaet 13/2
I struggle to see why Van Avermaet is 13/2 and Sagan is 4/1. The two possess many similar traits and, if anything, Van Avermaet has been the sharper this year. He ripped through the final kilometres of Flanders despite collecting a battered and bruised body in the last hour of the race. BMC are strong enough to get involved tactically and I can’t see Van Avermaet being far from the front as the race heads towards Roubaix.
The Contender – John Degenkolb 5/1
Degenkolb is a serious contender for Sunday’s race. He won here two years ago and has successfully rediscovered a competitive level of form following his 2016 injury. His only win this year has been in Dubai but that day was uncharacteristically difficult and Degenkolb proved he is one of the toughest competitors in the peloton. Even in Flanders – where he seemed to be out of contention – he rallied for seventh place. They won’t want to carry him to the velodrome.
The Outsider – Luke Durbridge 40/1
Luke Durbridge was 66/1 when I first took him but another strong ride in Flanders (despite being dropped early on) has seen him become one of the most popular outsiders. Orica will have the bug for Roubaix after Hayman’s success last year and Durbridge has been in brilliant form all season. He might not be considered a cobbles specialist but his results defy popular opinion. He’s been full of surprises since finishing sixth in Strade Bianche and I know plenty of people whose money is on the 25 year-old Australian.
Look Out For – Oliver Naesen and Tony Martin
Olivier Naesen deserves a mention as he has quickly turned into a leading classics rider and looks a brilliant signing by Ag2r. He was the only rider able to catch the wheels of Sagan and Van Avermaet when they made a move in Flanders.
And what about Tony Martin? A move to Katusha could free the German up for a serious crack at Roubaix. Long considered a cycling powerhouse, let’s not forget his win on the cobbles at the 2015 Tour de France. He should be difficult to shake and has the element of surprise on his side.
Enjoy the cobbles!