Geraint Thomas guarded against talk of replacing Chris Froome as Team Sky leader at Tour de France

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Geraint Thomas (l) and Chris Froome during the Welshman's stint in the yellow jersey at last year's Tour de France.

Geraint Thomas is dreaming of wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey again, although he wouldn’t be drawn on whether he expects to replace Chris Froome as Team Sky leader.

Froome’s participation at July’s Tour is in doubt due to an adverse analytical finding in a doping test during last year’s Vuelta a Espana.

If Froome is banned and misses the Tour, Thomas would likely become the Sky leader for the race.

“Where I sit in that team, I don’t know yet. I’m just concentrated on making sure I get to the starting line,” Thomas said on Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s prestigious Paris-Roubaix one-day classic.

Thomas wore yellow for four days at last year’s Tour after winning the opening prologue but he lost it to Froome after Stage 5 and crashed out of the race four days later while still sitting second overall.

The first nine stages in this year’s Tour are either flat or hilly – rather than mountainous – with the ninth stage finishing at Roubaix after taking in some bone-crunching cobbles.

It’s terrain that suits all-rounder Thomas, who has aspirations of wearing yellow again.

“That would be very nice,” he said, blushing slightly. “I wouldn’t turn that down, if it did happen that would be great.”

The Welshman has turned himself into a stage racer having previously excelled in the one-day cobbled classics.

In 2014, he finished seventh in Paris-Roubaix and eighth at the Tour of Flanders – the two major ‘Monument’ cobbled classics.

He won’t be among the favourites for Sunday’s 257km ‘Hell of the North’, which he says is tougher than the Tour of Flanders due to the state of the cobbles in northern France.

“It’s totally different to Belgium,” he said of the 54km of cobbles. “This is a lot rougher. In Roubaix, it’s like someone’s just gone along and chucked a load of stones out of the back of a truck.”

Still, the 31-year-old is looking forward to it and believes in Sky’s chances.

“You need a bit of luck and it’s fun because it’s not as controlled as the Grand Tours,” he said.

“There’s a good feeling in the team – we went out Thursday and it was pretty muddy but with the sun it’ll be dried out mainly now.

“There’s going to be a tailwind which will help, and we have a strong team, and if we trust each other we can get a good result.”

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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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