Paris-Roubaix Preview and Prediction
On Sunday, Fabian Cancellara (Trek) will have a chance to make history. He can become the first man to win the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the same year three times. Aside from the competition, 257 km, about a fifth of them cobbled, will stand between the man called Spartacus and a unique accomplishment. Cancellara, however, will not be the only man with a chance to rewrite the record books this weekend. Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) will have an opportunity to win the Hell of the North for a record-setting fourth time. What will these two men face in Paris-Roubaix 2014?
As always, the cyclists will start the race in Compiegne. They will head northeast over terrain that will be rolling but generally flat. They will reach the first section of cobbles, Section 28, in Troisvilles, at 97.5 km. That section will be a 3. (The cobbled sections are number from 1 to 5, with 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest.) The peloton will go over Section 27, which is also a 3, at 104 km before tackling the first hard section, a 4 at 106.5 km. The next six sectors will be twos and threes. After those, the riders will reach the heart of the race.
At 153 km, the bunch will take on Sector 19 at Haveluy, a 4. After that, the riders will enter the Arenberg Forest, whose cobbles are one of two 5s on the parcours. The forest will not decide who will win, but it will decide who will not. Every year, the Arenberg breaks bicycles, hopes, and bones, and this year will be no exception.
After the Arenberg, the riders will take on a series of sectors of medium to high difficulty. Sectors 17 to 11 are all 3s and 4s, with another 5 being Sector 10, Mons-en-Pevele. After Sector 10, the going will be relatively easy for a short time, with Sectors 9, 8, and 7 being a 2, a 3, and a 2, respectively. They precede Campele-en-Pevele, a 4, and Le Carrefour de l’Arbre, a 5. These will be the last hard sectors of the race with Sectors 3 and 2 being 2s and a 300-m stretch in Roubaix being merely a symbol of a Sunday in Hell. The winner will then enter the velodrome in Roubaix, or the lead group will enter the velodrome to wage one last battle.
Who will win? On form, experience, and morale, the odds-on favorite seems to be Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). The Swiss rider is coming off of victory in the Tour of Flanders in which he depended not on physical superiority, as he had in the past, but on experience to compensate for a lack of teammates. Cancellara is calculating and capable of changing plans on the fly, as he demonstrated on Sunday. These qualities will carry him to victory this weekend.
Sep Vanmarcke (Belkin-Linksys) has form, a strong team to support him, and confidence. On Sunday, he is said to have said to Cancellara, “See you at the velodrome in Roubaix.” The Belgian pushed the Swiss hard last year, with Cancellara outdueling him on the track. Look for a similar battle this weekend.
Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing Team) finished second in the Tour of Flanders. He took charge of the race during its decisive stage, and it took a rare Cancellara sprint to beat him. The BMC man has the form to make the podium, and he, Vanmarcke, and Cancellara could be on the velodrome together this weekend. Pencil him in for third.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) has won one classic (Milan-San Remo) and finished fifth at the Tour of Flanders. He has good form, and at his best he finishes powerfully. A top-five finish is not inconceivable for the Norwegian, and if the stars align properly, the Olympic bronze medalist might do much better.
Boonen’s record—three victories—say that he has the experience to win the race. The three-time champion’s form, however, is suspect. Since winning Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and two stages of the Tour of Qatar, the Belgian has been quiet. He finished seventh at the Tour of Flanders, a race that he has won three times. The Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider might win Paris-Roubaix, but not much in his recent racing suggests that he will.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling Team) finished second in the junior Paris-Roubaix, but he has never impressed in the elite version of the race. The Slovak has immense talent, and he is only 24. He might simply need time to mature. However, he finished 16th at the Tour of Flanders, which suggests that he lacks the form to win this weekend.
Geraint Thomas (Team Sky Pro Cycling) led Paris-Nice before crashing out, and he finished third at E3 Harelbeke. The Welshman has good form, but he will ride for Bradley Wiggins. If Thomas gets a green light to ride for himself, he could surprise.
This spring, Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) has taken a stage of the Tour of Qatar as well as the overall in Dwars door Vlaanderen. In addition, he has finished second at E3 Harelbeke, fourth in Three Days of De Panne, and sixth in the Tour of Flanders. He will not be a free agent, but he could surprise in support of Boonen. One overlooks him at one’s peril.
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