Peter Sagan, Niki Terpstra and other riders to watch at Paris-Roubaix

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Who do you want to win the Paris-Roubaix?

We’ve rounded up the top cyclists to keep a close eye on for Sunday’s gruelling race in northern France.

PETER SAGAN

The three-time world champion may have yet to stand on a podium at Paris-Roubaix but is arguably the biggest star in world cycling at the moment.

The Slovak has failed to scale the same heights as the previous two years, but Sunday could be the day when the cards finally fall into place.

The 28-year-old comes into the race after securing victory at Gent-Wevelgem, as well as achieving sixth-place finishes at Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders.

Races on instinct and is capable of winning on any given day.

NIKI TERPSTRA

The 2014 champion has been in stunning form this year winning the E3 Harelbeke, Le Samyn and Tour of Flanders in recent weeks.

Aside from Sagan, the Dutchman comes into the race as the favourite based on his sparkling displays in March. With other riders eager to finish the cobble classics on a high, the 33-year-old will also be hungry for victory having been forced to abandon each of the past two editions due to crashes.

Momentum is in Terpstra’s favour to win for a second time.

GREG VAN AVERMAET

The defending champion is well off the pace of last season where he won three of the four cobble classics, but may not be as far off as some results suggest.

The Belgian finished third in E3 Harelkbebe, eighth in Dwars door Vlaanderen and fifth at the Tour of the Flanders – and if he can avoid being outshone by Quick-Step’s immense strength then he has a genuine chance to finish on the podium again.

Has the confidence and experience to storm to another victory in northern France.

JOHN DEGENKOLB

Two wins at the Challenge Mallorca got the season off to a lightning start, but the German has failed to finish inside the top-15 in any of the four cobble classics so far.

An illness ruled him out of the latter stages of Paris-Nice last month, but the 29-year-old still possesses the turn of speed to push for a podium position.

As a winner in 2015, Degenkolb will be bidding to use his experience in Paris to get his season back on track.

PHILIPPE GILBERT

The Belgian always puts himself in a position to win and as one of Quick-Step’s key decision makers, he is a serious contender to collect a first win of the season.

Despite finishing second behind team-mate Terpstra at both Le Samyn and E3 Harelbeke, his characteristics perfectly suit the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix and it would not be a surprise to see him collect another podium this spring.

At 35, his glittering career shows no signs of slowing yet.

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Alexander Kristoff leads UAE Team Emirates charge at Paris-Roubaix

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Alexander Kristoff will lead UAE Team Emirates at Paris-Roubaix.

UAE Team Emirates have announced another strong line-up for one of the biggest races of the UCI World Tour season, Paris–Roubaix, as the group of riders take on a formidable race known as the ‘Hell of the North’.

The majority of the team have already participated in races in northern Europe, with the exception of one, Roberto Ferrari, who comes in to replace Briton Ben Swift following his crash at the Tour of Flanders.

Joining Ferrari at one of the most prestigious races on the tour will be Alexander Kristoff, Filippo Ganna, Sven Erik Bystrom, Marco Marcato, Oliviero Troia and Simone Consonni. The team will be guided by sports directors Mario Scirea and Philippe Mauduit.

Commenting on Sunday’s race Scirea said: “We’re going to Paris-Roubaix with the hope that our leader Alexander Kristoff has recovered from a cold that slowed down the first part of his northern campaign.

“Alex is a warrior, but at this level you have to be 100 per cent and ready to compete with the best. We are going to study a plan with our young riders, who are showing a great understanding and spirit for these type of races.”

First held in 1896, Paris-Roubaix is one of the oldest races in cycling and is considered one of the most difficult races of the UCI World Tour season – hence the nickname.

The 2018 edition’s 257km route features 29 cobbled sectors between Compiegne and Roubaix, with short bursts of smooth tarmac separating them.

The riders will have 93km before they hit the rough stones, in which the breakaway could form a lead on the peloton and play an important part in the opening third of the race.

From there on riders face some of the most testing conditions on the tour, which could be made worse by the wind and rain, the latter of which has a tendency to make the cobbles extremely slippery.

The 1.4km stretch at Willems a Hem is the final significant sector of cobbles and could see riders try to make a move as they attack in the final 10km stretch into Roubaix.

The unique finish in Roubaix will see riders tackle two laps of the velodrome in front of a packed crowd, with thousands expected to turn out for the event – one of the highlights of the one-day race calendar.

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Quick Step confident of winning 'Hell of the North' Paris-Roubaix

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With over 50km of treacherous cobbled sections, cycling’s epic one-day classic Paris-Roubaix deserves its deadly reputation, but the powerful Quick Step team believe their collective power can tame the race in fine weather this Sunday.

Known as the ‘Hell of the North’ and evocative of exhausted, mud-splattered survivors collapsing at the finish line of the Roubaix velodrome, race mythology dictates the cobbles themselves select the winner.

But in Nicki Terpstra and Philippe Gilbert the Belgian outfit have at least two contenders strong enough, on paper, to defy the many challenges thrown at the peloton during a 257 km race of attrition.

Despite participating only once previously, in 2007, Gilbert is ready to go full gas in his bid to secure a fourth one-day classic ‘Monument’ having already won the Tour of Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy.

“I think it’s time,” Gilbert told media on Thursday. “I’m in the latter part of my career now. I didn’t want to risk it before, so I left it towards the end of my career, so I think it’s logical to go for it now.”

Dutch teammate Niki Terpstra could take up the baton should the cobbles kill off Gilbert’s challenge. He will saddle up with ambitions, too, having soloed to victory in the Tour of Flanders last week.

“Paris-Roubaix suits me even better than the Tour of Flanders,” said the slimmed down 33-year-old Terpstra.
Last year’s winner Greg Van Avermaet of BMC says he feels ‘capable of winning it again’ after setting the highest average speed in Paris-Roubaix history at over 43km per hour in 2017.

While the race is 257km long “the real race starts at Arenberg”, Paris-Roubaix race director Thierry Gouvenou told AFP this week.

The notorious Arenberg Forest is one of three ‘five star difficulty’ sections. Coming at the 93km mark, the shade leaves its often mishappen cobbles greasy and slick.

“Riding on these cobbles is a violent experience,” former professional racer Gouvenou told AFP. 

“You need to be slightly mad to launch yourself into Arenberg at top speed. The slightest error and you can’t maintain control.”

World class bike-handling skills weren’t enough for Bora’s Peter Sagan last year. He suffered a puncture when brought down by another rider’s fall as he was trying to follow Van Avermaet.

Marked out of contention for victory at Flanders last week, Slovakia’s world champion will be hoping he doesn’t suffer the same fate on Sunday.

For Govenou, Arenberg is strategically crucial.

“You don’t win the race at Arenberg, but this is where the winning selection is made,” he said.

The next five star point is at Mons-en-Pevele (208.5 km), from where a long range winning bid is possible, then finally at Carrefour de l’Arbre 17km from home.

“I have lost in the sprint twice,” said another Quick Step contender Zdenek Stybar, the 32-year-old Czech who came second in 2015 and 2017.

“The penny has dropped now, I have to finish solo.”

Stage nine of this year’s Tour de France starts at nearby Arras and race director Christian Proudhomme said even the likes of French favourite Romain Bardet, whose physique is unsuited to winning this type of challenge, had expressed joy at discovering it on the route.

On Sunday, Bardet and other overall contenders for the yellow jersey in July will be testing the waters, on the cobbles.

Provided by AFP Sport

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