Can Fabian Cancellara bow out of Paris-Roubaix with his fourth win or will new Tour of Flanders champion Peter Sagan add to his Monument tally?
Will it be a fairytale ending to Fabian Cancellara‘s cobbles career? The Swiss rider was close to reeling in Peter Sagan at the Tour of Flanders last week, but couldn’t quite keep up with the youngster after all those hills.
Roubaix is his second home, though. While he won his three Flanders titles in the five years between 2010 and 2014, he tasted success at Paris-Roubaix ten years ago in 2006.
He’s proved he’s still strong and his attacks up the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg in Flanders showed that he’s still got a lot in the tank. He’ll leave everything out on those cobbled roads to ensure he gets his fourth Roubaix victory.
Many expected Niki Terpstra to be a contender at the Tour of Flanders and despite being on Cancellara’s wheel as he took on the final ascent of the Kwaremont, the Dutch champion couldn’t hang on.
His form has been so-so in the big races this season, having finished second in Flanders and Ghent-Wevelgem last year.
Terpstra won Paris-Roubaix with a solo attack in 2014 and it could take another one of those to win it again this year, although he’ll have to work hard to drop the other big names.
What can we say about Peter Sagan that we’ve not already said? We noted that he hadn’t won much this season and then he went on to win Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.
The Flanders win will give him more confidence for Roubaix – if he needed any more, that is – and he’ll be hoping not to be scuppered by a mechanical like he was in the closing stages of 2015.
Luke Rowe has looked in excellent form in recent weeks, combining his strong riding with an attacking instinct that will suit him well at Roubaix.
Rowe has shown he can spot the right moves to follow and ride with the best riders, so a high finish in the Roubaix velodrome is not beyond him this year.
Etixx-Quick Step‘s tactics in the final kilometres were a bit suspect, meaning Zdenek Stybar was always going to lose out to John Degenkolb in the final sprint despite having a teammate with him in the front group.
There’s no Degenkolb this year, but if there’s a fast man in the final group Stybar will have to learn from the mistake last year to improve on his second-place finish.
Etixx, as always, have an incredibly strong team but it’s all about whether they can work together for the big goal, and I’m not sure they will.
At the start of the season we were saying that Alexander Kristoff is a shoe-in for a Monument this year, but an illness suffered over the E3 weekend has really set him back.
Yes, he finished fourth in Flanders, but he won a sprint between non-sprinters once the race was already dead and buried. He won a stage at the Three Days of De Panne but looked and sounded awful afterwards.
Like every race, if he’s there at the end he’ll be a favourite because of his sprint, but being there at the end will be the tough part.
Lars Boom looked like he might cause a shock in the closing stages of the Tour of Flanders, but faded back to 11th position by the finish line.
Roubaix is his more natural environment, though, finishing fourth last year and winning the cobbled stage of the 2014 Tour de France.
If it weren’t for his bright blue Astana kit, Boom seems to be the kind of rider that you don’t really pay much attention to, but the big boys won’t let him gain an inch on the peloton for fear they’ll never get him back.
Yet again, Sep Vanmarcke is one of the favourites for a cobbled race and probably yet again he’ll not manage to win it.
Despite an early crash and a later mechanical problem, Vanmarcke finished third in Flanders, having gone out with Sagan on the attack in the final kilometres.
But he was pedalling squares on the Paterberg and then put the anchor on Cancellara when he latched on to his chase of the world champion. He can do it, he just never does it. Prove me wrong, Sep!
He’s not going to win, but it’ll be interesting to see Mark Cavendish take on his second Paris-Roubaix nonetheless. He performed surprisingly well on the cobbles at the Tour de France last year, even taking a turn on the front of the peloton as teammate Tony Martin rode to victory.
He’s riding it to say thanks to the guys who slog their guts out riding for him for the rest of the season, but it’s a curious move for someone who’s got the Olympics and Tour de France on his radar in a few months.
A fall and an injury on the cobbles could see his Olympic dreams end in a pool of muddy tears.