The 115th edition of Paris-Roubaix will be the last for four-time winner Tom Boonen who will have to create a small miracle to hang up his helmet on a victory, because fellow Belgian Greg van Avermaet is the pre-race favourite. Peter Sagan is another favourite starving for success who will look to improve his personal best 6th place result at Roubaix (2014) in thinking only of the place on par with his world championship rainbow jersey! Alexander Kristoff and John Degenkolb, amongst others, also cannot be overlooked. Arnaud Démare and Sylvain Chavanel top the list of French hopefuls.
The Queen of the Classics is fought out in France between Compiègne and Roubaix, but the wildest race on the calendar also has a Belgian soul. The number of victories speaks for itself, with 56 wins for Belgian riders. There will be two huge favourites at the start line for the 2017 edition who grew up in the purest of Flandrian traditions. But while Greg van Avermaet is still pedalling after his first win on one of cycling’s monuments, Tom Boonen will try to ride off into the sunset with an eighth triumph, which would put him in a league of his own with a fifth triumph on the cobblestones. Both have shown strong form recently, with the Rio Olympics champion taking the advantage with a runner-up result on the Tour of Flandres where “Tomeke” fell out of contention with a chain issue. The Belgian troops will not be led by their national champion, Philippe Gilbert, who beat van Avermaet last Sunday on De Ronde. But there are a few Belgian outsiders in their ranks such as Oliver Naesen and Jasper Stuyven.
Van Avermaet and Boonen will have to deal with the hungry as a wolf appetite of the world champion, who has had as many hardships as successes. Last year, Peter Sagan avoided the fall of Fabian Cancellara that threw a monkey wrench into the chase effort, devastating his hopes for victory. Last Sunday, he went down when he rode too close to a spectator in the waning kilometres of the race. Only one opportunity remains for the Slovakian to win a major classic this spring season, after Kwiatkowski edged him out by mere centimetres on Milan-San Remo. Perhaps just as threatening for the Belgian clan as the man in the rainbow jersey, Alexander Kristoff has slightly better results on the major races than John Degenkolb: 4th on San Remo and 5th on the Tour of Flandres, while the German finished 7th on each. Both could play an important role in the outcome.
The designated leader among the French riders is, as is often the case, found in the ranks of FDJ. Off his game on the Tour of Flandres (56th), Arnaud Démare finished 6th on the “Primavera” and will be a serious candidate for the title if it comes down to a sprint finish in the Vélodrome. However, his former teammate Yoann Offredo who now rides for Wanty-Gobert showed strong form on the Tour of Flandres (14th), as did the tireless 37-year-old veteran, Sylvain Chavanel.
25 teams entered, the main contenders
Team Dimension Data: Boasson-Hagen (Nor), Cavendish (Gbr), Eisel (Aut), R. Janse van Rensburg (Zaf)
Team Sunweb: Arndt (Ger), Sinkeldam (Ned)
Bora-Hansgrohe: Sagan (Svk), Burghardt (Ger)
Orica-Scott: Hayman, Durbridge (Aus), Keukeleire (Bel)
Bahrain-Merida: Bonifazio (Ita), Božič (Svn)
Quick Step Floors: Boonen (Bel), Stybar (Cze), Terpstra (Ned)
Lotto-Soudal: Greipel (Ger), Gallopin (Fra), Roelandts, Debusschere (Bel)
Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise: Van Hecke (Bel)
Wanty-Groupe Gobert: Offredo (Fra)
United Arab Emirates
UAE Team Emirates: Marcato, Bono, Guardini (Ita)
BMC Racing Team: Van Avermaet (Bel), Oss, Quinziato (Ita), Drucker (Lux)
Cannondale Drapac Team: Phinney (Usa), Van Baarle (Ned)
Trek-Segafredo: Degenkolb (Ger), Stuyven, Theuns (Bel), De Kort (Ned)
Movistar Team: Bennati (Ita), Dowsett (Gbr)
AG2R La Mondiale: Gougeard (Fra), Naesen, Vandenbergh (Bel)
Cofidis, Solutions Crédit: Božič (Svn), Sénéchal, Laporte (Fra), Van Genechten (Bel)
Direct Energie: Chavanel, Petit (Fra)
FDJ: Démare, Le Gac (Fra), Guarnieri (Ita)
Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Martinez (Fra), Siskevicius (Lit)
Fortuneo-Vital Concept: McLay (Gbr), Mourey (Fra)
Team Sky: Stannard, Rowe (Gbr), Van Poppel (Bel)
Astana Pro Team: De Vreese (Bel), Minali (Ita)
Team Lotto NL-Jumbo: Boom, Leezer (Hol), Wynants (Bel)
Roompot-Nederlandse Loterijned: Ligthart (Ned)
Team Katusha: Kristoff (Nor), Martin (Ger), Haller (Aut)