UAE Team Emirates’ preparations are underway for what is arguably the most famous and toughest one-day race of the UCI WorldTour calendar – the Paris-Roubaix on April 14.
The line-up is led by the in-form Alexander Kristoff, who picked up a race victory at Gent-Wevelgem and a podium finish at the Tour of Flanders. He will be joined by Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria, who makes his Paris-Roubaix debut following his recent outings at the Belgian Classics. The pair are joined by Jasper Philipsen, Marco Marcato, Tom Bohli, Sven Erik Bystrom and Norwegian National Champion, Vegard Stake Laengen.
The race is dubbed a ‘Sunday in Hell’ or ‘The Hell of the North’ – and the 257km route is just that. While the opening 95km doesn’t throw up too many obstacles for the peloton, it’s the second half of the race where the action really begins.
At 96.5km, riders encounter the first of 29 cobbled sections of the course, and it’s here where they will begin to fight the elements; bumpy cobbles, dusty roads and narrow streets all have potential to wreak havoc.
In total, there’s over 54km of cobbled roads, with three significantly bumpy sections given a five-star rating for difficulty. These sections will undoubtedly pull the group apart as they make their way towards the finish in Roubaix. History shows that a bunched sprint finish is highly unlikely, but a thrilling battle between a small group of riders should be on the cards, played out in front of the thousands of spectators that pack into the world-famous Roubaix Velodrome to witness the final metres of the races.
Commenting ahead of the race, UAE Team Emirates’ General Manager Joxean Matxin said: “Considering the good run of our cyclists, we can look towards Paris-Roubaix with optimism. Our wish is to close the northern classics campaign with a significant result. Alexander Kristoff will captain our team. He has been very effective so far and wants to set the record straight in Paris-Roubaix after a fall last year. We will have riders at his side to offer a great contribution and Fernando Gaviria who, despite debuting in the race, has the necessary talent to go strongly.”
Alexander Kristoff once again showed his strength in the Classics as he fought his way to a third place finish at the Tour of Flanders.
The Norwegian powerhouse, who won the Tour of Flanders in 2015, was able to make the front chasing group of 15 as they attempted to bring back the solo breakaway man – Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) – who made an attack in the third and final pass of the Oude Kwaremont with 18km to go and eventually won the race.
In the final few kilometres Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) was able to attack off the front for second place, with Kristoff outsprinting the bunch to take a well-deserved third place, 17 seconds behind Bettiol.
Sven Erik Bystrom and Fernando Gaviria rode in the leading group until the final 20km, before the pace and parcours became too challenging for them to remain at the front of the race. Jasper Philipsen crashed mid-race and while he was able to continue, he later retired and did not finish.
Kristoff said: “It could seem that the race was very tactical but, as far as I’m concerned, it was a race that was always pushed to the limit. I came to the foot of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg for the last time with very tired legs and I was a bit surprised to see that I was able to stay with the main group.
“It was then that I realised they were all very tired too. The situation worked better than I could have imagined and I tried to take advantage of it. The result makes me happy. I have a good shape, I have high morale after these races, I can count on a team that is racing well and I hope that these conditions will recur in a week in Paris-Roubaix.”
Kristoff’s performance delivered the third podium finish for UAE Team Emirates in a Belgian WorldTour race in 2019. It adds to his win at Gent-Wevelgem and the second place for Gaviria at Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne.
Dan Martin will be hoping he has the luck of the Irish on his side as he joins a selection of riders fresh from the GP Miguel Indurain to tackle the beautiful, but brutal, Tour of the Basque Country from April 8-13.
UAE Team Emirates‘ Martin, who looked in great shape during the Tour of Catalunya, will be supported by Colombian climber Sergio Henao – who has seen success in this race with three career podiums – and the Italian puncheur Diego Ulissi, who favours this type of race.
Two more Italians – Edward Ravasi and Manuele Mori – make up the seven-man team, along with Australian Rory Sutherland and the rising Slovenian super-talent Tadej Pogacar.
Sports directors Neil Stephens (Australia) and Aurelio Corral (Spain) will guide the team through the six-day stage race.
The 59th edition of Tour of the Basque Country kicks into gear with a challenging Individual Time Trial (ITT) in Zumarraga that is 11.2km in length.
The second stage from Zumarraga to Gorraiz has a hilly route that features punchy climbs in the first 50km before a more rolling profile leads to a nasty uphill finish to the line where the riders will face a 600m run-in at 8.1 per cent.
Stage 3 is the longest race in this edition. It is 191.4km long and far from flat, yet the parcours will likely set up a power sprint to the finish near the Santuario de Nuestra Senora de Estibaliz. The final two kilometres go up at approximately 4 per cent and could be one for UAE Team Emirates’ Ulissi to contend.
Four climbs are included in the fourth stage from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Arrigorriaga. The last one is extremely irregular – a 2.3 per cent slope in the first kilometre and 6.4 per cent in the second, before an 800m drop continues onto a 500m climb at 10 per cent. The climb levels out before the top and a fast descent drops down to the finish line.
Stage 5 from Arrigorriaga to Santuario de Arrate serves up seven climbs before finishing near the iconic Sanctuary of Arrate. The final haul up is five kilometres at 8.8 per cent, while the last few kilometres run on rolling terrain before a 600m drop to the finish.
The sixth stage of the Tour of the Basque Country is an explosive out-and-back race through the hills around Eibar. The final ascent is the Asensio. This is a 7.3km climb with its toughest section ramping up to 9.5 per cent for over 1km. The following descent flies down to the mountain in to Eibar and could be where the GC is finally decided.
Team Manager Joxean Fernandez Matxin said: “We will be racing in the Basque Country with a very balanced team, ready and with the right qualities to try to get a result and be protagonists.
“We have high calibre riders to lead the team and for supporting the men doing so. Expect to see Mori, Ravasi and Sutherland doing some serious leg-work for the stars.
“Henao has always done well in the Basque Country, with three career podiums; Martin is always a guarantee and has rode an excellent Volta a Catalunya; Ulissi knows this race perfectly well and Pogacar can make his mark every time he takes the start of a race.”