The air is shimmering of trepidatious excitement and the ground is quaking in Northern France: the 2018 Paris – Roubaix is just around the corner. The most valuable rock in cycling, the granite cube trophy with which is prized the winner of the Hell of the North, is waiting to be delivered Sunday 8, March in the hands of most capable rider at the end of the day. The one who will step on the top rung of the podium in the André Petrieux Vélodrome might look as much as possible similar to the trophy he will be rewarded: hard, dusty and rough. All the evidence point to two men in particular taking into consideration the single riders and one specific team with regards to the teams. The former are the former winner Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and Peter Sagan (Bora – hansgrohe), the latter is Quick Step Floors.
The Olympic champion took the ticket for the monument-race-winner club last year at the 2017 Paris – Roubaix and completed the transition from a puncheur to a all-rounder. This year van Avermaet look a little bit weaker than last year and the results speak for themselves: intead of the win of the Gent – Wevelgem, of the E3 Harelbeke and the podium achieved at the Tour of Flanders, the Belgian in this Spring classics campaign succeeded in finishing into podium positions only at the E3 Harelbeke. The same is true for the World Champion: Sagan hasn’t proved yet to be superior to the other competitors and his shape seems a bit worse in comparison to the one we are used to recognise. By the way the Paris – Roubaix means rich peakings for both: by getting the success their season’s evaluation would get a face-lift.
In any case, Sagan and van Avermaet have to come to terms with the team that has proved to be the most competitive and well organized troughout the 2018 Spring classics: Quick Step Floors. The Belgian team has won four out to the five races that were held within the last two weeks on Belgian soil and wants to extend its supremacy in Northern France. Niki Terpstra hits the Hell of the North with the confidence that derives from the success achieved at the Tour of Flanders, Zdenek Stybar might want to release last year’s second place and Philippe Gilbert is, thanks to the flexibility and the unpredictability in his possession, for sure one of the crown jewel in competition. In addiction to the one that I’ve just mentioned it is necessary to underline the participation of Dwars door Vlaanderen winner Yves Lampaert.
There is no doubt Wout van Aert (Veranda’s Willems – Crelan) is the loose cannon of this Paris – Roubaix edition. The cyclo-cross World champion will presumably end his season on tarmacked road Sunday and has what it takes to get a prestigious result on the race which probably suits better the twenty-four years old. The Belgian duo made of Sep Vanmarcke (EF – Drapac) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek – Segafredo) is a tough one: the first has already stepped on the podium in the Velodrome André Petrieux and the latter proved last year that the best has yet to come and he’s ready to take a great result. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale) is up in arms to go out in a blaze of glory but he’s not in great shape, mostly because of the unlucky circumstances he’s been victim in this season Spring classics.
Some riders more than others are willing to lead the race to a bunch sprint in order to succeed in getting their chance. Arnaud Demare (Groupama – FDJ) is part of this group together with Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates). The Frenchman has shown he’s always in the right place where it counts but he improved in sprinting rather in being a rouleur and he should have a say if the race ends up with a sprint. The same should be said about Kristoff who, to be honest, hasn’t achieved yet a positive result since he moved his target to Belgian races this year. Also former Paris – Roubaix winner John Degenkolb (Trek – Segafredo), who will presumably work for Stuyven with consideration to his lost brilliance, Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data), who performed a leading role at 2016 Paris – Roubaix, and Dylan Groenewegen (Lotto Nl – Jumbo), who participates with the aim of testing himself on the cobbles, are taking part to the race.
There’s no reason why youngsters Mads Pedersen (Trek – Segafredo) and Gianni Moscon (Sky) couldn’t take the spoils on the finish line. The Dane’s massive performance last Sunday at the Tour of Flanders automatically inserted Pedersen among the most competitive suitors to the classic on the cobbles. By the way the Italian is not in the same shape of last year but at least he will try to manage a positive trial. His fellow countryman Matteo Trentin needs to prove to his team Mitchelton – Scott they weren’t wront to get on him for the leading role in the classics and Moscon’s teammate Dylan Van Baarle will presumably be the second lead in Team Sky’s pencil. The British team also lines up Geraint Thomas: the Welsh moved his focus to stage races and abandoned the idea of being a top-tier classics-hunter but he will prove himself on the cobbles anyway. Also Micheal Valgren (Astana), who finished at the foot at the podium last Sunday at the Tour of Flanders, will take his chance in Roubaix. The Dane improved a lot on the cobbles in comparison to the last few years and he will for sure fight for a prestigious result.
Several other riders should have a go for the Paris – Roubaix success. Former winner Matthew Hayman (Mitchelton – Scott), last year third-finisher Sebastian Langeveld (EF – Drapac), Mike Teunissen (Sunweb), Daniel Oss (Bora – hansgrohe), Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Jurgen Roelandts and Stefan Kung (BMC Racing), Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton – Scott), Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), Jens Keukeleire and Jens Debusschere (Lotto – Soudal) and Taylor Phinney (EF – Drapac) are part of this group.