Paris – Roubaix: From the EB to the final cobble
The Paris-Roubaix is a race that needs to be watched from start to finish. The ultimate spectator race, and the biggest one day event of the year, it delivers action from the early break (EB) to the final cobble. It also uncovers more dark horses than a black stallion convention. Read on for a little taste of what’s to come in 2018.
After the 2017 edition being the fastest in history, averaging 45.2kph for the total 257km, this year’s race is sure to spark up reasonably quickly. The battle for the EB (early break) is going to be more aggressive than a posse of piranhas in a foot bath. The wild card teams will be punching on like a euro soccer crowd after a draw, throwing punches at each other to try and get themselves in the move for a bit of TV time. Watch out for the Ludovig/Ludwig duo from WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic team – they love a scrap.
In truth, it’s a lot more important to get a hitter in the EB in Roubaix than in any other race. The reason is that a day in the EB can be a lot easier than in the washing machine that is the main peloton. The pace is also more consistent and doesn’t surge as much. So when the time comes to go ‘whack’ and put it in the big dog and let fly riders can actually have more energy than if they’ve been trading king hits in the main bunch. Matty Haymen won from the EB a few years ago, although the break didn’t get away until after over 70 km of racing.
Veranda’s Willems Crelan team would normally be considered a wildcard team. However they have, for me, one of the favourites in their midst – cyclocross superstar Wout Van Aert. He has support by back to back Flanders winner (08, 09) Stijn Devolder, as well as the likeable Lithuanian Aidis Kruopis.
After 93km of what I expect to be a pretty relentless pace, the bunch will hit the first of the 29 cobble sections at Troisvilles, a 2.2km three-star section. From then on, its game on until the first five-star rating section – the infamous Arenburg Forrest. Here I am going to be cheering (so fricken loud) for at least two Aussies. Firstly, Mitchell Docker. He lost half his face here once (literally), he has form, and is due a good result. Secondly, Heinrich Haussler. I have watched him punch the shit out of this section on so many editions of this race, and he is another rad lad with something to prove. This section of cobbles always claims a few top contenders so watch out for mechanical issues and crashes as they enter this rocky, slippery mud fest!
After they exit the Arenburg, it’s evident pretty quickly who is feeling good and who is not having a good day. The problem is there are still 19 sections of cobbles to go, including Mons-en-Pévèle at the 208km mark, and the Carrefour de l’Arbre, which is just 16km from the finish. Both these sections get a five-star rating for being truly bloody horrible (and exciting to watch). They’ll have me on the edge of my seat cheering like a madman. The race could already be won by this point. In 2007, with 25km to go, Stuart O’Grady launched an attack from the favourites group and rode away for the win. Man, that guy can rock!
The favourites on paper are Van Averment, Sagan, and Terpstra. They are all huge chances of getting a piece of pave for their mantel. But I’m also tipping Gilbert, Vanmarcke and Van Aert to be in the running. But, one of the reasons why this race is so exciting is because the list of dark horses is like a black stallion convention. Garaint Thomas, Arnaud Demare, Daniel Oss, Alexander Kristoff, Matty Haymen, Heinrich Haussler, Luke Durbridge, Zdenek Stybar, Edvald Bossen Hagen, John Degenkolb, the list goes on. The Aussies to cheer for I have mostly already named but there is also Brenton Jones making his Paris Roubaix debut and Alex Edmo Edmundson who will be playing a huge support role to Haymen and Durbrigde. That’s why this is a race that needs to be watched from start to finish.