Arguably, Paris-Roubaix is the toughest one-day race on the calendar and it takes the toughest individual to win. After having endured a daunting gauntlet of cobbles the pilots arrive in the Roubaix Velodrome. A perfect blend of positioning, bike handling, power and tactical nous are essential to win the Hell of the North. But let’s not forget a large slice of luck either. Given the conditions, mechanical issues are unavoidable in Roubaix, the timing of which can be the difference between winning and losing.
Looking at the statistics, Greg Van Avermaet is a master in controlling the above factors. He brought four top 5’s home in six years. Moreover, the Olympic Champion solidified these credentials with one victory.
Zdenek Stybar’s Hell of the North palmares is equally impressive, although the Czech former World Champion cyclo-cross never lifted the cobble-stone trophy. But he finished five times out of six with the best ten riders. He was runner-up twice – in 2015 and 2017 – and he is on a roll this spring. He won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and the E3, so 2019 could be his year.
Other victors in the Flemish campaign are Alberto Bettiol (Ronde van Vlaanderen), Alexander Kristoff (Gent-Wevelgem), Mathieu van der Poel (Dwars door Vlaanderen) and Bob Jungels (Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne). Only Kristoff and Stybar are set to start in Paris-Roubaix.
Still competitive riders who won Paris-Roubaix are Peter Sagan (2018), Greg Van Avermaet (2017), John Degenkolb (2015) and Niki Terpstra (2014). The Dutch rider doesn’t start though, as he suffered severe head trauma in last Sunday’s crash during the Tour of Flanders.
Heralded riders like Sagan and Van Avermaet could use success in the Hell of the North. The former World Champion and reigning Olympic Champion won only once in 2019, both in lesser races. Sagan pocketed a stage in the Tour Down Under, while Van Avermaet was victorious in the Tour of Valencia. The Slovak powerhouse still has time to salvage something from his spring campaign. He was absent in most Flemish classics as he continues to the Ardennes Classics, while Van Avermaet spring campaign ends in next week’s Amstel Gold Race. Arguably, the brutal cobbles in Paris-Roubaix suit him better than the more friendly stretches of pavé in his home country.
Another Belgian is increasingly feeling the burden of the home nation. Wout Van Aert is in stellar form this spring, but without winning. The former World Champion cyclo-cross finished third in the Strade Bianche, sixth in Milan-San Remo and second in the E3. It is the first time since World War II that no Belgian rider won a spring classic ahead of Roubaix. Both Van Aert and Van Avermaet are fitted to relieve the burden. Are they going to deliver?
Favourites 2019 Paris-Roubaix
***** Zdenek Stybar, Greg Van Avermaet, Wout Van Aert
**** Alexander Kristoff, Dylan van Baarle, Peter Sagan
*** Philippe Gilbert, Tiesj Benoot, Sep Vanmarcke
** Oliver Naesen, Sebastian Langeveld, John Degenkolb, Magnus Cort
* Jasper Stuyven, Taylor Phinney, Kasper Asgreen, Nils Politt, Matteo Trentin