Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 21 Preview

Course:

We once again arrive at the processional stage into Paris, Chris Froome having joined the exclusive club of four time Tour de France winners, despite never truly appearing to be the strongest rider in contention for the yellow jersey. Stage 21 will be a chance to relax for the Team Sky captain and his fellow riders, the common sight of champagne flutes being passed around the group, as others share family messages to the cameramen who have stalked them since the departure in Düsseldorf. The stage itself is 103km from Montgeron to the iconic finale upon the Champs Élysées, featuring a total of eight laps around the capital, each proving more hectic than the last. Though many riders like to escape the bunch over the Parisian cobblestones, seldom do their efforts steal the win, this being a day for the sprinters to dominate. Having lost Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Marcel Kittel and Arnaud Démare during the race, it may well prove a harder to control race than previously anticipated.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 21 Preview

Contenders:

André Greipel has already been backed by his fellow sprinters to secure another victory upon the Champs Élysées, a consistent performer when it comes to this tricky stage, the German now appears to be the fastest man left at the race. Despite having lost a key component of his leadout train in the shape of Marcel Sieberg, the team still have enough in reserve to offer him a protected ride into the final decisive turn of this curtain call upon 2017’s Tour de France. Assuming he is placed into the ideal position from which to sprint from, then it is unlikely that anyone else will be able to match the speed of the ‘Gorilla’.

Nacer Bouhanni will do well to redeem his Tour de France by taking a surprise win on the final day, having had to endure a pretty torrid time throughout. Seemingly spending more time throwing punches then concentrating on the task at hand, the fiery Frenchman has spurned several opportunities at the race which looked ideal territory for him to win from. Morale is not great at Cofidis, so they could do with a win to say the least, yet it will take a lot of effort to muster something resembling a serious charge for Parisian glory today.

Alexander Kristoff is another rider who has recorded a consistent level of results on this familiar conclusion to Le Tour de France, though has been unfortunate to miss out when it comes to crossing the line first. Last week he may well have emerged as the new favourite to win, but a serious fall which catapulted him hard onto the tarmac has dented his chances. Having recorded one of the slowest times in yesterday’s time trial, it is difficult to gauge if he is really suffering badly or simply saving his efforts for a stage he still believes he can win. The technical demands, positional requirements and draining cobblestones are all typical features of a Kristoff victory, and if he has truly recovered, then expect him to be pushing for the win as ever.

Edvald Boasson Hagen finally took a well deserved stage win a couple of days ago, but will not be content with just that, as this has the potential to be another feather in the cap of the Norwegian at the end of 2017’s Tour de France. Now looking to be one of the freshest fast men still at the race, Team Dimension Data are likely to be a dominant force at the head of the peloton during the deciding laps around Paris, ensuring nobody dangerous gains too great a gap on the bunch. In terms of leadout, the Norwegian can expect to have the best on offer, though it is hard to say how hard he had to dig for his recent victory and whether they may have blunted his chances as a result.

Others expected to feature amongst the top ten on Stage 21 are Dylan GroenewegenBen SwiftMichael Matthews and John Degenkolb.

Outcome:

1st André Greipel 2nd Edvald Boasson Hagen 3rd Alexander Kristoff

Advertisements
Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 19 Preview

Course:

Having dealt with the Alps for another year, the race begins to settle down to terrain resembling something flatter during the final days of 2017’s Tour de France. Starting in Embrun, the day gets off to a lumpy start with the Category 3 pairing of Col Lebraut (4.7 km, avg 5.8%) and Côte de Bréziers (2.3 km, avg 5.6%), though eventually settles into a manageable rhythm of gently rising and falling roads. Having continued pushing onwards through the intermediate sprint at Banon, a downhill section leads into the foot of the Category 3 Col du Pointu, lasting for 5.8km and possessing an average gradient of 4.1%. From here it is essentially a flat run into the finish at Salon-de-Provence to complete their 222.5km day in the saddle. However, those hoping to take the win in a sprint finish will need to negotiate a technically demanding finale, one with a couple of roundabouts and numerous tight bends.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 19 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews shall still be motivated to score points in the green jersey competition, even if only to hammer home the fact he has won it through great skill and not simply the abandonment of Marcel Kittel. The length of today’s stage suits him well, as does the terrain, but it is the flat and technical finale which looks set to cause trouble for the Australian sprinter. Though his last victory came about after having to sail through a couple of tight bends before the finish line, this appears to be a more demanding finale and one which is unlikely to see a rider like Edvald Boasson Hagen make the same mistake twice. Regardless, his form is fantastic at this point of the race and it feels like there is not a challenge Team Sunweb cannot rise to achieve right now.

André Greipel would be surprised if he left this year’s Tour de France without a stage victory, especially given the number of favourable days and the departures of Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan, Arnaud Démare and Marcel Kittel. Today however does not look ideal for the powerful German sprinter, a rider notorious for becoming lost amongst the maelstrom of a tricky finish such as this. A fan of long power based sprints, Greipel will not be afforded such a luxury on Stage 19, though must not be ruled out given his pedigree at this level. His leadout train is diminished, making life harder still, but this could be an ideal test run of how to adapt ahead of a more desirable victory on the Champs Élysées.

Alexander Kristoff survived a nasty spill during Stage 17, crashing as a result of striking a rut in the road while descending one handed in order eat, sending him sailing through the air and crashing to the ground. Having gained several abrasions and “a slightly dislocated shoulder”, there were suggestions he would not be able to finish yesterday’s ascent of the Col d’Izoard, but the tough Norwegian proved this was simply not the case. A fully fit Kristoff would normally be favourite for this type of finish, so his recent injuries shall certainly prove even more frustrating for him on a day which plays to his strengths. The final kilometres could erupt into a head to head battle for the line as tired leadout trains begin to fall apart, giving him the chance to pounce and gain a reward for his steely determination to survive.

Edvald Boasson Hagen probably still thinks about how he should have taken the final bends of Stage 16, as a neater line would surely have sent him sailing past Michael Matthews in the final moments. Still on the hunt for a win at this year’s Tour de France, his Team Dimension Data squad have worked hard to produce competitive performances in the absence of Mark Cavendish, often finding themselves within touching distance of a breakthrough. He potentially sees himself possessing the best leadout train now present at the race, which is more than capable of launching the obviously strong Boasson Hagen onwards to a belated win. If there was going to be one stage for everything to finally click into place, for both team and rider, then Stage 19 is surely the occasion for it to happen.

Nacer Bouhanni has proven to be a great disappointment at Le Tour de France this year and does not realistically look like obtaining his first stage win at his native grand tour anytime soon. He does favour these twisting conclusions to the day however and still has a reasonably strong outfit of riders in place to guide him through the final kilometres as best as possible. His greatest weapon is his acceleration, rather than his top speed or power, making this short finishing straight ideal for his skills to step into the spotlight upon. Likely to be hiding on the wheel of bigger names in the last moments of the stage, Bouhanni’s best tactic will be to burst forth from behind the frontrunner with a perfectly executed burst of pace.

John Degenkolb held issues with the way in which Michael Matthews sprinted on Stage 16, though few professionals or pundits suggested that the German was correct to believe himself hindered by the Australian’s late manoeuvre. This hectic charge to the finishing line does not play to his strengths at all unfortunately, yet there is no denying that on paper he is now one of the fastest riders remaining. His second place finish behind Matthews showed that he can cope with a few late turns and does not deserve to be ruled out entirely because of previous form on similar finishes. The final week of a grand tour is always difficult to anticipate, but it would be a surprise to not see Degenkolb amongst the first five riders home.

Others to consider are Dylan GroenewegenSonny ColbrelliGreg Van Avermaet and Ben Swift.

 

Outcome:

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Edvald Boasson Hagen 3rd Michael Matthews

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 4 Preview

Course:

Another day exceeding the 200km mark, Stage 4’s passage from Mondorf-Les-Bains to Vittel is similarly rolling to yesterday’s terrain, though should provide a more suiting finish for the thoroughbred sprinters. Starting in Luxembourg and crossing into France around the halfway point, there is little of note during much of the 207.5km route, though there is an ascent of the Category 4 Col des Trois Fontaines on offer later in the day. The finish itself is a slight drag up to the line, perhaps looking favourably upon those who have the strength, but not quite the top speed to better the likes of Marcel Kittel on a normally level playing field.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 4 Preview

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel performed well on the opening road stage, securing a convincing victory despite a rather below average leadout from his Quick – Step teammates. However, none of the sprinters’ leadout trains got it right on Stage 2 and today will be the first opportunity to remedy this factor for all the big names. Having clearly arrived at Le Tour de France in fantastic condition, it is easy to consider that Marcel Kittel could walk away with around five stage victories if everything goes to plan. Nobody looked particularly close to challenging him the other day, but the subtle increase in gradient to the line might be enough for some rivals to close the gap.

Arnaud Démare recorded an impressive second place behind Marcel Kittel on Stage 2 and will only be more of a threat to the German on a finale which rises slightly to the line. Enjoying the form of his life currently, the Frenchman has not only sustained great condition heading into his home grand tour, but is also backed by a competent leadout train to guide him into position. Assuming FDJ can execute an almost perfect final kilometre for their captain, then there is a strong possibility of seeing the first French win of 2017’s Le Tour de France.

André Greipel is confident of picking up at least one stage win at the race and has looked strong enough to achieve that ambition based on what we have seen thus far. His team were one of the few to produce a more organised leadout on Stage 2, but the ‘Gorilla’ was left a little short of being able to better his compatriot Marcel Kittel when it mattered most. Another rider who often performs well on moderate inclines, this is a convincing opportunity for Greipel to collect a stage win before the first week is even over.

Peter Sagan managed to unclip his foot in the decisive moments of yesterday’s finale and still succeeded in fending off a surging Michael Matthews by a considerable margin. Consistency has delivered him a green jersey at every Tour de France he has attended, making it certain he will be present in the kick for the line, but wether it suits him enough to win is a different question entirely.  The World Champion rises to the top when contests get attritional, so today’s short and simple run into the finish line is unlikely to truly favour him, though nothing is simple after more than 200km of racing.

Dylan Groenewegen is another who could seize the day, using the final increase to launch himself to victory and take his first career grand tour stage win. The biggest deciding factor for the Dutchman is wether his teammates can navigating him a successful pathway to the front of the action, allowing him to focus everything on producing his best effort possible.

Those capable of challenging for the win and top 10 placings include Nacer BouhanniMark CavendishJohn Degenkolb, Ben Swift and Sonny Colbrelli.

Outcome:

1st Arnaud Démare 2nd Marcel Kittel 3rd André Greipel

Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

RICHMOND WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS 2015 – Men’s Road Race Preview

Course:

Richmond 2015 signals the World Championships’ return to a pure circuit race for the first time in over ten years, rather than the use of an opening sector to warm the riders up before starting the laps, something which has become common in recent editions. Instead a smaller run of 5.3km will lead the riders onto a shortened first circuit, before beginning the 15 laps of 16.2km which comprise this 261.24km World Championship contest. Many will already be accustomed to the demands of this course having watched the preceding time trials and road races work their way around Richmond’s streets, ensuring few surprises should now remain on this technically demanding circuit. Tight bends and fast descents are present during the course, but the three most standout aspects of the race will be the climbs which are expected to decide the outcome of the day’s racing.

The first of these is Libby Hill, a snaking 200m cobbled hill which has already seen a variety of riders suffer mechanicals and even slide out on the opening bend once some light drizzle is added to the equation. Position is crucial here and there will be a high pace heading into the bottom as nations attempt to protect their leaders’ by finding the safest path to the top; often by riding in the gutter. After this comes a brief descent which includes some very fast bends, before leading the pack into the second challenge of the day, 23rd Street. Significantly stepper than its predecessor, 23rd Street will compress the bunch on each rotation of its cobbled 100m and possibly serve as a springboard to attack late on in the race. The descent from here would see a breakaway push on rapidly as they strive to hit the final climb of Governor Street first. This 300m climb is a steady grind and tops out 680m short of the finish, where the final straight immediately begins running right the way to the line.

As a whole, the course looks to favour powerful classics styled riders who can repeatedly chase and counterattack their rivals with short anaerobic efforts. With the final climb concluding with almost 700m of flat racing still separating them from the line, a sprint from an elite group of 8 to 15 riders could be the most likely fashion in which the rainbow stripes are won in Richmond. There is of course the chance that it will come down to a bigger bunch sprint, meaning that many of the teams here have made their uncertainty regarding the expected race dynamic clear and called up a pure sprinter and a stronger classics rider to cover both eventualities.

 

Mens-Road-Race-Richmond-World-Championships-2015-Spokenforks-Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff  has been tipped by many to return the rainbow bands to Norway since his compatriot Thor Hushovd won them in 201o, but he faces a difficult task to achieve that ambition here. His success earlier in the year encompassed a dominant showing in the Spring classics and included winning the Tour of Flanders in impressive fashion. On that occasion he was aware of his status as a marked man coming off the back of early season victories in the Middle-East and subsequently went on the offensive; going clear with Niki Terpstra before rolling past the Dutchman at the finish with ease. This shows an awareness and willingness by Kristoff to take action against those who perceive him to be the biggest threat during a race. This may also prove to be the biggest problem during today’s battle, patience is often the key to these one day affairs and the week’s preceding road races have already demonstrated that those who bide their time often emerge with greater success than those chasing the win. Instead, he might lean upon Edvald Boasson Hagen to chase down any dangerous moves on the final repition of the three climbs, aiming to set up Kristoff for a reduced bunch sprint, within which many anticipate him to dominate. There is no question surrounding the Norwegian’s ability to perform at a single day race, but his current condition is not certain after an average Tour de France but an encouraging third place at GP Quebec recently. Ultimately Kristoff comes to the fore as the attrition rate approaches its maximum (the harder and longer the better), so with cobbles, hellingen, 261km and a high chance of rain; he might just get his way.

John Degenkolb ranks alongside Kristoff in two clear ways, the first being his nation’s desire to see this race decided by a sprint, as well as a shared ability to demonstrate their best during the hardest of one day races. This year saw Degenkolb secure victories at two of the biggest monuments in cycling; Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo. These notoriously long and arduous affairs bode well for the German, but it is the contrasting styles in which he won them that offer the greatest insight as to his chances in Richmond. The former saw Degenkolb protected by his teammates until he perceived the race winning move to occur, attacking solo to bridge the gap to the break and eventually out sprint the likes of Zdeněk Štybar and Greg Van Avermaet to win. In contrast, his victory at Milano-San Remo came off the back of an immense team effort to protect Degenkolb over the day’s climbs, controlling the race and finally delivering him into a race winning position to sprint from. The biggest difference for Degenkolb today is that he will not have the luxury of the well oiled machine that is Giant-Alpecin, instead he will be operating from within the German team on this occasion and could find himself exposed during the final ascent of Governor Street. His recent performances at the Vuelta a España were lacking his normal clinical finishing, but this is less important on a day which comes down to the ability to suffer and survive. Spokenforks believes Degenkolb is likely to find greater success seizing the initiative and protecting his interests firsthand, rather than placing the responsibilities on his German team to ensure a sprint finish. A situation which could throw up yet further problems if his compatriot André Greipel is also present with less than 700m remaining in Richmond.

Michael Matthews won this competition as an Under-23 in 2010 and will surely fancy his chances of repeating this success at a senior level on a course which favours his attributes convincingly. The Australian has found success on similar terrain at both grand tour and one day races in the last couple of seasons, especially those involving late climbs. Matthews’ biggest supporting evidence to a claim at the win here is his performance at Amstel Gold earlier this year, a race which saw him able to match Philippe Gilbert on the notorious Cauberg. He walked away with third on that day, though had he not dug so deep in order to pursue the Belgian classics specialist, he may have been able to muster enough to secure the win. Regardless, it was a demonstration as to his talent for such a course and he will be aware as to how unlikely it is that a World Road Race course will suit him so well again anytime soon. The Australian team can guarantee him great protection throughout the race and could possibly offer up their ‘Plan B’ Simon Gerrans as a leadout man for Matthews in a sprint finish. Though he usually prefers an uphill sprint to the line, the fact that three tough climbs are present in rapid succession on the final lap should be enough to tilt the odds in his favour, marking him out as one of the fastest finishers after Governor Street is tackled for the final time. Perhaps most encouraging of all however is the fact he has not simply added this race at the tailend of his season, rather Matthews has actively prepared and focused upon performing in Richmond and is thus a major contender.

Peter Sagan is bound to face the biggest array of dilemmas during the race, the immensely talented Slovak could win from a variety of situations, but lacks the support required to convincingly back any of them. Teammates Juraj Sagan (brother) and Michal Kolar well simply attempt to protect their leader for as long as possible, before leaving him to go it alone (when this will happen is uncertain). The strength, courage and tenacity we have witnessed from Sagan this year has reignited him and subsequently earned him some belated victories. He has proven to be incredibly strong on climbs this year and is bound to out perform his most likely rivals who are hoping for a sprint finish. Sagan is also not afraid to take the race by the scruff of the neck and join or instigate a breakaway move, working hard to drive it to the line alongside his escapees. However, despite encouraging showings at several classics during his career so far, the distance of 200km+ and a high attrition rate often blunts his abilities, or simply rules him out of the running entirely. It could be a waste for Sagan to simply sit in the wheels and wait for a sprint finish where John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in better shape, instead Sagan would bolster a very convincing chance of becoming World Champion should he join a late breakaway and punch his way across the line first.

Greg Van Avermaet has enjoyed a season which has included great results at the major one day affairs of Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, no doubt the type of form he will hope to replicate at Richmond. He is expected to lead Belgium alongside Philippe Gilbert and will be their best bet to secure the rainbow jersey if the win comes from an elite group which forms on the final lap. Avermaet beat Sagan on a difficult stage at this year’s Tour de France and he has tried to taper his exertions in order to arrive in Richmond in a comparable shape once again. Avermaet is likely to animate the race and join a break in order to ease the pressure on Belgium having to chase a move late on, possibly even finding Gilbert beside him in such a move. Alongside this, the day’s climbs are similar to that of the hellingen which he has performed consistently upon this year, playing convincingly into his hands yet further. Doubts are apparent however, predominately due to his recent displays at the GP Quebec and GP Montreal, suggesting he may not have carried his form late into the year as well as expected.

Alejandro Valverde must wonder what exactly he has to do in order to become World Champion, the Spanish rider has so far acquired a total of two silver and four bronze medals at the race since his first in 2003. This statistic is amazing in itself, but when considering that the courses upon which he has accumulated these medals have contrasted so dramatically, it become clear as to how consistently Valverde raises his game in order to contest this title. He is better suited to the Ardennes style of one day racing and has little history against the Springtime cobbles, something which certainly affects him negatively today. Valverde will be aware of those who will be better than him in a straightforward drag race to the line, adding support to the likelihood of him joining a breakaway or striking out alone on the final ascent of Governor Street. The long and wearing nature of the World Championship Road Race could in fact make him the fastest present in a group sprint, though this would surely have to leave Degenkolb, Kristoff, Matthews and perhaps even Sagan absent from its composition. Possessing such form for this race means he cannot be discounted from being present in the shake up for the rainbow jersey, especially as this might even be his last appearance.

Zdeněk Štybar is a real danger to the hopes of others with their eye upon the win today, the Czech team leader is known for sniffing out a victory and striking powerfully before others even begin to realise what is going on. Štybar has started to carve out a niche as a one day specialist, 2015 seeing him win Strade Bianche and claiming second at E3 Harelbeke and Paris-Roubaix. The support he will have on the day should be more than sufficient to keep him at the head of affairs and it will be interesting to see how he chooses to ride this race. It is easy to forget how huge a talent Štybar also is for Cyclocross, a factor which should ensure he is well equipped to cope with a frantic race upon crucial cobbled climbs which may become drenched with rain. Given his reputation, the peloton will know that any attempt by the Czech rider to go clear cannot be ignored, as Štybar is notoriously difficult to reel back in at the best of times, let alone when there is a World title at stake.

Juan José Lobato has the blend of skills required to at least make it onto the podium if all goes to plan for the strong Spanish sprinter. He enjoyed a successful Tour of Britain earlier in the month, contesting the sprinters’ stages well and even holding the leader’s jersey at one point too. He has enough to suggest he will last the course and his fourth place at Milan-San Remo in 2014 came during some of the worst downpours the race has experienced in recent years, so weather should not be an issue for him either.

André Greipel could cause a real stir if present in the bunch as they turn left onto the finishing straight at the final time of asking today. The end of this season has seen a great showing at the Tour of Britain where he reminded people why he is likely to be the fastest man in this race, as well as his ability to climb impressively for a man of his talents. He is not known for his one day ability and is also notorious for vanishing when the charge to the line is contested in heavy rain. As mentioned previously, the biggest issue should he remain in contention ahead of the finish line is teammate John Degenkolb, a situation which could cause chaos as they decide who should support one another. Certainly an outsider for the title, but if he showcases the same form we saw earlier in the year at the Tour of Flanders, then he cannot be totally discounted from the contest.

Matti Breschel never seems to offer much in the way of excitement during the season and yet he consistently emerges as a protagonists during the final moments of a World Championship Road Race. Because of this he warrants a mention on a course which does indeed play into his hands, the Dane being an extremely strong rider when it comes to long and testing races. The Danish team is certainly underestimated as the likes of Rasmus Guildhammer, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Michael Valgren are just some of the riders which offer a great depth of strength in order to support Breschel throughout the day. Given Breschel’s history for performing at the Worlds, he clearly has the knack of peaking at this time of year down to a fine art, so do not be too surprised if he records at least a top ten placing.

Elia Viviani is likely to lead this year’s Italy squad, a jumbled selection of pure sprinters and tougher fast finishers who should cope with the hills. Viviani was in stellar form during the Tour of Britain, but could struggle to make his presence felt on this particular course, though he has stated how he has replicated the required climbs in training as intervals in order to prepare for Richmond. Fabio Felline will ride alongside Viviani in support, but deserves a mention on the back of a seventh place finish at the Giro d’Italia’s epic 264km long Stage 7, a day won by another Italian teammate Diego Ulissi. A harder race will certainly favour Ulissi, especially if it rains, but the squad still has further firepower in the shape of Giacomo Nizzolo and Matteo Trentin who could both contest the win if circumstances are right. This Italian team appears extremely confused on paper, lacking a coherent plan which could see this talented squad walk away with nothing of note.

Niki Terpstra might be given the task of spearheading a Dutch team which bolsters no sprinters and will rely upon animating the race with the intention of getting at least one rider into the day’s decisive move. Terpstra copes well on this sort of terrain which includes cobbles and is known for being able to choose the perfect moment to solo away from his competitors and take the win. However, this course does not suit that style as neatly as he will have hoped, so attention may instead lie elsewhere within the Dutch ranks. Lars Boom was fourth and six at Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders respectively this year and would like to think this type of form can be mirrored to a certain degree in Richmond; Boom also sprints strongly remember. He is yet another rider the Dutch possesses which the peloton cannot afford to let slip off the front with little reaction to chase. The biggest question mark surrounding the team however can be placed upon Tom Dumoulin, arriving here after a gruelling Vuelta a España and a modest showing in the individual time trial earlier in the week. It is difficult to anticipate what form he will be in, but the parcours do suit him particularly well and if he had of focused specifically on peaking for this affair he would have been a favourite. Regardless, he cannot be dismissed entirely as this year has shown how well he is climbing, while people also forget he can be the fastest sprinter from an elite group at this type of race.

Julian Alaphilippe emerged this year as a talented once day racer and should be confident of being present in the mix in the final stages of today’s race. The Frenchman finished seventh at Amstel Gold, before going on to place second at both La Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège later on in the week. His talents are perhaps more Ardennes styled than what the expected skill set is to dominate here, but Alaphilippe is unlikely to be caught out on the climbs and is a very quick finisher too. Teammate Tony Gallopin offers similar talents and is sure to be another option for the French team which arrives in Richmond with modest ambitions. Gallopin is always showing a great capability for rising to the occasion of a classic and even managed a top ten finish at Milan-San Remo this season; eighth place at the recent GP Quebec also adds to his case.

Ben Swift could be Great Britain’s best chance of a medal, the Yorkshireman’s grit has often seen him perform well at longer races and he even took third at the notoriously miserable Milan-San Remo of 2014. There has not been a great deal to shout about in recent months, but his showing at the London & Surrey Classic reinforces his ability to fight at the front for these long day’s in the saddle. Ian Stannard is becoming a cobbles specialists and should be worth keeping an eye upon if he should happen to make it into a breakaway, though the finale up Governor Street might be too much for him to handle. Adam Yates was second at GP Montreal a couple of weeks ago and even won Clasica Ciclista San Sebastian, albeit in rather bizarre circumstances and should fancy this finale too.

Ramunas NavardauskasMichal Kwiatkowski, Jempy Drucker, Edvald Boasson-HagenIlnur Zakarin and Grega Bole are just a handful of names who could either force a breakaway, go it alone or feature in a reduced bunch sprint.

Outcome:

The permutations of what may happen seem almost limitless, but Spokenforks believes that a reduced bunch will hit the final climb of Governor Street and see a select group go clear before they turn onto the finishing straight. This small group will contest the win amongst themselves and is likely to comprise many of the sprinters fancied for the win today, though some will have to dig deeper than others to stay in contention. Taking into account the amount of climbing, preparation and the finale itself, Michael Matthews looks to be a strong contender for the win and should have enough support from his Australia team to at least place on the podium. The likes of John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff are likely to be in hot pursuit, but might find the pace unmanageable on the final climb and leave themselves too big a gap to close in the final 680m to the line. Peter SaganGreg Van AvermaetJuan José Lobato and Zdeněk Štybar all seem to be names who could feature alongside Matthews during his charge to the line. Of course the purer sprinters do have a chance, though it seems that there may not be enough nations wishing to chase this outcome in order to guarantee a larger bunch kick, instead we might see a greater focus upon getting riders into the day’s decisive breakaway. If the heavens truly open and downpours begin, then you may as well pick a name out of the hat at random, as with cobbles and newly laid tarmac throughout the course, crashes will have a huge influence on the outcome and favour a shock breakaway even more.

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Juan José Lobato 3rd Peter Sagan

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-2-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 2 Preview

Yesterday’s individual time trial placed this year’s first yellow jersey upon the shoulders of Australian BMC rider Rohan Dennis, winning the stage after recording the fastest ever average speed in an individual time trial at Le Tour de France. Having set the standard early on in the day’s proceedings, Dennis was left to sweat in the leader’s hot seat as Tony Martin, Fabian Cancellara, Tom Dumoulin, Adriano Malori, Alex Dowsett and everyone else all failed to better his blistering time. Assuming he manages to steer clear of any immediate misfortune, there is a strong chance that Dennis could retain leadership for several days as the peloton make their way down from the Dutch mainland and into France itself. Stage 2 offers a contrast in the shape of a traditional opening sprint finish, but such a conclusion is never guaranteed at the world’s biggest race; especially when sailing so close to the testing coastal winds.

Course:

The profile of Stage 2’s 166km passage from Utrecht’s ‘Grand Depart’ to the coastal town of Zeeland appears incredibly simplistic on paper, which is certainly true if questioning the level of altitude; starting 4m above sea level and finishing at a typically Dutch 0m. However, at an edition of Le Tour de France which offers so little in the way of sprint finishes for the purest quick-men, this stage shall hinge on the possible damage inflicted by harsh crosswinds from the North Sea.

A surprisingly short stage, the route soons begins to turn towards the coast and sets the day’s concluding 50km up to be fought for directly upon the coastline itself. Normally on a stage such as this, the sprinters’ teams would take the reins and attempt to boss the race in order to keep any break on a tight leash; then bringing their main rider to the front in the finale to duke it out for the win. However on this occasion, the threat of crosswinds scything the peloton apart is bound to mean squads nervous of protecting their general classification hopefuls from being caught out in the crosswinds, also work hard to keep their leaders in the first 30 riders or so. The opening week of the Tour de France is renowned for its anxieties amongst the bunch, the desperation to avoid crashing, ultimately causing precisely that to happen. On Stage 2, there is set to be an awarked clashing of motives between the sprint teams looking for victory and the GC teams looking for safety.

Being a Dutch conclusion, there is plenty of road furniture to negotiation in the final kilometres, but the finishing straight itself is an incredibly simple 1380m in length. Those with the very fastest sprint speed will relish the prospect of such a long drag race, allowing them to reach top speed and hit the front precisely when they wish to upon the wide finish. Should the crosswinds indeed prove influential, then we may see a shift from the pure sprinters to the bigger, stronger power sprinters.

 

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-2-Preview-

 

Contenders:

Top of everyone’s list is likely to be Mark Cavendish, his well marshalled team more than adept at protecting their leader and unlikely to shy away from fighting for control of the race if they feel GC teams are causing issues at the front. The misfortune which sent Cavendish exiting from Le Tour on day one last year in Yorkshire seems to have stoked yet further desire to win at this race; if that is even possible for the Manxman. He appears lean, confident and as quick in a sprint as ever, all adding up to making him a huge contender for winning Stage 2 of this year’s tour. Perhaps the biggest indicator of Mark Cavendish’s current condition came in the British National Road Race Championships at Lincoln last weekend. Despite a course which was contested around repetitions of the steep and cobbled Michaelgate climb, Cavendhish not only remained in contention throughout the race, but only found himself bettered by Pete Kennaugh on a course which his fellow Manxman had previously dominated upon two years ago. Bearing this performance in mind, people might be somewhat surprised by the shape in which they see Cavendish come the first sprint of this edition.

With Marcel Kittel unable to make the selection for this tour, Cavendish is set to see a renewal of his long held rivalry with former teammate André Greipel. The German ‘Gorilla’ has experienced good fortunes so far this season, and much like Cavendish, appears to be resurrecting form of past years also. His team is as strong as ever in supporting him, but a certain level of tinkering has been made in order to accommodate the presence of cobbled specialist Jurgen Roelandts this year. Regardless, his leadout remains strong as long as he manages to stay in touch with it; Greipel being known for slipping back when he deems the risks too high for the sake of a teammate’s wheel. The long finishing straight is a dream conclusion for the Lotto-Soudal rider, who should seek to stay sheltered late on before unleashing a relatively long sprint, one which allows him to reach maximum speed and hold off anyone else behind.

Crosswinds seem unable to phase the Norwegian strongman Alexander Kristoff, a rider who stated that the brutal desert winds of Qatar earlier this year were little compared to that of his homeland. Should the race prove more attritional than expected on Stage 2, Kristoff shall surely come to the fore as others begin to feel the strain of staying well positioned amongst the maelstrom. For Kristoff, the last year has proven to be his WorldTour breakthrough, one which has seen him take Tour de France stages and the Tour of Flanders earlier this Spring. Usually touted as a man who benefits as races reach their conclusion and fatigue has set in, Kristoff has demonstrated consistently in 2015 that he can win against the freshest of sprinters considered faster than him. While people are busy watching out for Greipel and Cavendish during the final kilometres, Kristoff has the strength, nous and support to steal a march upon his better fancied rivals.

John Degenkolb is a powerful man, though usually only takes such victories after much longer races which wear his rivals down and diminish their top speed. In the absence of Marcel Kittel, Degenkolb will be supported by Giant-Alpecin for the sprints, but does find his usual leadout team altered to a certain extent similar to Greipel. Perhaps if the finish is contested into an intense cross or block headwind, Degenkolb could take advantage of the situation; his potent speed ensuring he cannot be ruled out of contention entirely.

Likely to have been better backed in anticipation of Stage 2 last weekend was Nacer Bouhanni, the Frenchman possessing an incredible turn of pace which as seen him take many victories due to his vicious accelerations. However, the French National Road Race Championships were far from ideal for Bouhanni, crashing hard in the final kilometre of the race having found himself well placed to take the national title once again. His initial reaction was to state that he would be unable to compete at Le Tour de France, but he has evidently been made aware of his injuries not being as severe as first expected, hoping to ride himself back into peak form during the tour. It is a big blow for Bouhanni who seemed to be peaking perfectly ahead of his national tour, especially as he is one of the few fast enough to challenge both Greipel and Cavendish.

Peter Sagan might not be well backed to win this stage, but his recent domination of the green jersey competition suggests he will no doubt be accumulating his first points en route to defending the title in Paris. After a tricky start to the season, Sagan has started to find some of his best form and will seize upon any chance to take an unexpected win in Zeeland on Stage 2 of this year’s Tour de France. His results and performances at the Tour de Suisse hint at a rider on the cusp of reaching his peak ahead of a major race, perhaps more so than some of the names mentioned above; making the talented Slovakian as threatening as ever.

Many of the so-called ‘second tier’ sprinters require either more technical finishes which allow them to execute explosive finishes over short finishing straights, or much tougher races which can be won through brute force and strength. Along these lines you will find Bryan CoquardSam Bennet and Arnaud Démare who all retain the potential to win depending on the fashion in which the conclusion of Stage 2 is played out in the final kilometre in Zeeland.

Outcome:

The Dutch coastline itself is perhaps the biggest influence upon the day’s outcome, should the wind prove ferocious in both direction and intensity, we may not witness the exact sprint finish many are predicting. The long finishing straight is a perfect battleground to see Mark Cavendish and André Greipel fight for the win in a contest of sheer speed, one which has always been exciting, though perhaps even more so than ever given their current form. It seems that the biggest threat to this apparent two man showdown comes in the shape of Alexander Kristoff, the Katusha man has had a brilliant season, often going far beyond expectation to take wins and he is more than capable of doing exactly that in Zeeland. Should the winds truly roar and leave Cavendish and Greipel cooked before the finish is in sight, then Kristoff is certainly the favourite to capitalise.

1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd André Greipel 3rd Mark Cavendish

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-7-Preview

Tour de Suisse – Stage 7 Preview

As forecast by Spokenforks yesterday, Peter Sagan did indeed spoil the chance of any such party for the sprinters, utilising the technical finish to his advantage and delivering a potent acceleration late on to take yet another career victory at Tour de Suisse. The Slovakian’s account is by no means closed at this year’s edition and Stage 7 offers him yet another opportunity to exploit his current vein of form and pocket a hat trick of stages in 2015. With a finale which should see the toughest of the sprinters rise to the top once again, Sagan will instead have to switch from technical ability to brute strength and determination to win this contrasting challenge.

Course:

The remaining stepping stones towards the final day’s individual time trial should all favour the strong sprinters and classics riders who have signed up to contest 2015’s Tour de Suisse. Stage 7 offers yet another jagged day’s profile, though it does fail to reach anything greater than 800m during its entirety from Biel to Düdingen. The 164.6km route which links the start and finish towns encompasses four categorised climbs, but should guarantee a bunch kick of sorts; even if the composition is likely to alter given the uphill run to the line against a 4% gradient. It is upon two laps of the Düdingen town centre which we shall saw all four climbs feature, as the teams attempt to break one another’s hopes by upping the pace and shelling the more lightweight sprinters out the back of the peloton.

Once again the day shall open with a reasonably long period of flat, this time providing the peloton with 60km of simple riding to get themselves up to speed and ticking over nicely. Despite the profile clearly displaying a transition to rolling terrain after this period, it is not until the riders pass through the day’s finish for the first time after a little over 90km of racing, that they shall begin the 36.8km circuits which comprise the finale and contain all four categorised climb present on Stage 7. The Category 3 Freiburgstrasse is first on the agenda, a short 1.1km ascent which will do damage if its 6.3% average gradient is ridden at an intense tempo late on. After this, the pack sweep down momentarily before squaring up to the Category 3 Hauptstrasse, a mysterious ascent which lacks any level of documentation beyond its supposed distance of 4.1km, though it is believe to possess gradients around 6% – 8%; any such climb’s attributes are magnified by the high speed with which the peloton shall begin the run in.

Having repeated this double header for the second time, the bunch have almost 20km to get their act together and ensure the teams’ selected men for the day are moved into position ahead of the finale. The road remains rolling and features four roundabouts during the last couple of kilometres to add to the anxiety. This is followed by several turns ahead of the final uphill 800m, eventually exiting onto the finishing straight with 500m remaining. Though the straight is long enough for many of the top sprinters to get up to speed, they shall have to compete with a steady 4% gradient which should add a few wildcards into the mix as the battle for victory on Stage 7 is ignited.

Tour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Prologue-PreviewTour-de-Suisse-Spokenforks-Stage-7-Preview

Contenders:

The impressive form which Peter Sagan is so clearly in right now makes him the obvious favourite for a more difficult sprint finish which could see him triumph once again this week. As mentioned previously, his speed is not at the same level as the likes of Mark Cavendish, John Degenkolb or Alexander Kristoff for example, but his technical skill to position himself and strength means a win on Stage 7 is plausible. The longer finishing straight certainly diminishes his odds of winning, though the tricky concluding 2km will be favourable as they navigate several turns and four roundabouts before the riders catch sight of the finishing straight. Another advantage for Sagan is the possibility of the attrition rate increasing during the town centre circuits; he is one of the strongest of the sprinters once life gets more testing on short climbs before the finish and could even ask his teammates to push the pace if he feels everyone is rolling over these ascents too easily.

John Degenkolb has taken stage wins on uphill finishes before and has the brutish force to stay in contention despite the wearing hills which shape the finale. He should be confident of being at the fore when entering the 500m run to the line, a straight which would allow him to start his sprint and reach a maximum speed if all plays out well. Degenkolb’s speed is possibly unrivalled on this terrain, making him a real danger to the hopes of Sagan if he manages to exit the final corner in a good position. With the incline and finishing straight’s length, the German strongman has a real chance of winning here should he be on form.

Usually Alexander Kristoff would be labelled as key favourite on this type of stage finish, but with his form so far at the Tour de Suisse leaving plenty to be desired, there is a chance he might not even be in the mix to contest the win. Despite this apparent absence of form right now, he still managed to muster an impressive third place finish yesterday, regardless of the fact it failed to suit him well at all. Many of his victories have come independently of a well drilled leadout team to, the Norwegian being well versed in looking after himself in the midst of the maelstrom which often decides these sprints. His efforts on the previous day could leave him somewhat short on potency though, possibly reducing his odds of winning, despite being the fastest man against the gradient alongside Degenkolb.

Frenchman Arnaud Démare does appear to be resurrecting a certain level of form as this race develops, but he is still likely to come up short against rivals currently in their pomp. This will come as a disappointment for both himself and his FDJ.fr team given how the technical run in and uphill sprint do suit the Frenchman particularly nicely. Should he find himself riding well on the day, Démare should put in a good showing regardless of his injuries from Stage 2, making a top ten placing well within the realms of possibility.

BMC could play two cards with one man, Greg Van Avermaet possessing a skill set which could see him victorious in either a bunch kick or a sprint from a small breakaway. The Belgian classics specialist suits the uphill conclusion well and has already managed a podium placing when finishing third on Stage 4’s uphill battle. Though lacking the speed of Degenkolb or strength of Sagan for example, he could leave with the win if he starts his sprint much earlier or successfully picks the right breakaway which delivers him to the line amongst lesser sprinters.

With Michael Matthews having packed his bags and gone home already, Orica-GreenEDGE might decide to place their hopes upon Swiss favourite Michael Albasini for Stage 7. The finishing circuits could prove attritional enough to bring him to the fore after the faster rivals have been drained, Albasini’s form upon uphill finishes makes him a contender for the win if conditions prove favourable. The finish itself would probably have suited him more if the straight was somewhat longer, so, much like Van Avermaet, his better option might be to join a well timed breakaway.

As we have already witnessed at this year’s Tour de Suisse, even the most innocuous lumps and bumps of a stage profile end up being greatly exaggerated due to the tempo which is set upon them by the frontrunners. A hard race would make the two passes of the town centre finishing circuit reminiscent of a classic, ensuring that strong riders who pack a punch in a sprint could contest the victory. Jurgen Roelandts appears in good form at the moment and was only bettered by Peter Sagan on the previous day, no doubt providing him with the confidence to attempt something on Stage 7. Another name more synonymous with the classics is Sep Vanmarcke, a rider known for his immense strength and ability to turn out a rapid sprint at the end of some of the hardest days in the saddle. A move made upon one of the final climbs could prove dangerous for the peloton; Vanmarcke recognised as an extremely difficult man to drag back even when solo.

A dark horse who remains worth watching in the concluding kilometres of Stage 7 is Katusha’s Daniel Moreno who is evidently in good form at the moment. The Spanish rider has already secured a pair of second places and a sixth place finish behind Michael Matthews as well, clearly demonstrating a high level of race fitness currently. Today’s stage profile might not look horrendous on paper, but we have already seen expectedly calm passages explode under the groaning pressure of certain teams at the start of the week. Moreno is good in an uphill sprint, having taken La Flèche Wallonne thanks to such talents and could seriously fancy his chances against big name rivals. Like many mentioned above, he does not bolster the speed of Degenkolb, Kristoff or Sagan, but if the race proves a lot harder than expected on paper, Moreno could put in a barnstorming effort in the final 800m and steal a march on the big names.

Outcome:

Stage 7 has the feel of a day which could be plunged into chaos within the passing of a second, be it due to tougher terrain than expected or a miscalculation by the peloton which lets a strong breakaway slip off the front. Regardless of the vast array of riders who could all make it into a break and subsequently dominate a sprint finish, the conclusion should be fought amongst the sprinters and their supporting cast of teammates. In this situation there is a strong case to be made for the flying Peter Sagan who appears borderline unstoppable right now; as long as the course is suiting. On this occasion the longer finishing straight does reduce his chances of winning somewhat, but the technically demanding final 2km could level this off to a certain degree for him. Not far behind the Slovakian ace should be John Degenkolb, the immensely strong sprinter likely to have the speed to make him the fastest in the final 500m to the line. The biggest worry for the German is ensuring he makes it into a good position once he has exited the last bend, of which he has the talented support to do just this and would be the hardest man to beat if all goes to plan. A mixture of classic specialist and strong riders will feature around the two mentioned above; Alexander KristoffGreg Van Avermaet and Michael Albasini all possessing the skills required to win this finish which could prove more demanding than many expect heading into it. Beyond these, Daniel Moreno warrants a mention as an outside bet, primarily due to his current run of form at the Tour de Suisse, but also thanks to the uphill finish which could see him get a jump on the major sprinters.

1st Peter Sagan 2nd John Degenkolb 3rd Alexander Kristoff

Outsider: Daniel Moreno

Zdenek-Stybar-Paris-Roubaix-2015

Monument Three – Paris Roubaix Preview

Course:

This year’s Paris-Roubaix takes a familiar shape as previous editions; softening the riders up with 100km of flat racing before the cobbles appear on their radar. Overall, the peloton will need to tackle the 253.5km which leads to the historic finishing line at Roubaix’s velodrome; while also surviving the 27 sectors of bone rattling pavé. In order for favourite to succeed here, they will have to sustain their luck and strength over a total of 52.7km worth of race deciding cobblestones.

Like many crucial one day races, the desperation to be represented in the day’s early breakaway will result in a thundering pace until the peloton concedes and allows one to form. The aftermath of this will be a lull in tensions; this is probably the only time in the race the peloton will experience something resembling a breather. The first sector on the agenda strikes after 98.5km, igniting the fuse to every subsequent sectors hell for leather approach. The three star ranked Troisvilles is the first challenge; followed by Quievy (3700m), Saint-Python (1500m) and Verchain-Maugré (1600m). Ranked at 4 stars, Haveluy is a tough sector which will give some insight as to who is looking most nervous when jostling for position on the best part of the road.

As iconic as it is infamous, the next sector is Trouee d’Arenberg and its 5 star ranked cobblestones which can break a rider’s hopes of winning in Roubaix. The peloton’s approach to this sector is notorious for its speed and intensity; hitting the first row of cobblestones at speeds akin to a sprinter’s leadout. Chaotic crashes have often peppered the ride through Arenberg, instantly scuttling the chances of contenders; a simple puncture at this point would have the same outcome. Due to the nature of Arenberg, teams will attempt to keep their leaders’ at the front of affairs through sheer speed over the treacherous road, often resulting in an elite group being formed by the time they exit. By now it will be noticeable as to how heavily thinned the ranks will have become since finishing Arenberg, making it apparent as to who now lacks support from their team.

Next is Mons-en-Pevele (5 stars) with 49km to go, a sector which is likely to shape the composition of the eventual group from which we see the winner emerge. The final 30km to Roubaix require the riders to stay upright over Cysoing-Bourghelles, Bourghelles-Wannehain, Champhin-en-Pevele; all before entering the decisive 5 star Carrefour de l’Arbre. Over 2km long and coming only 17km from home, this has often been the site upon which the day’s winning attack has been forged. Once completed, the final pavé which separates them from the famouns velodrome are those of Gruson and Hem.

Outcome:

With Paris-Roubaix sitting as the third monument in the season, we have a vague idea of who are likely to be the major protagonists by now; having already seen the riders duel for the wins at Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders so far. Form is certainly able to be sustained across these successive weekends of classics racing, but each race offers attributes which lean towards the capabilities of certain riders in particular within the peloton. For curtain raising Milan-San Remo we had to cast an eye over the fastest finishing strongmen who were likely to still be present once they arrived on the Via Roma after over 6 hours of racing. In the fields of Flanders those who could cope with the repeated anaerobic efforts required to dominant the vicious hellingen were always going to be apparent and when it came to more than one rider contesting the finish, whoever seemed fastest on paper was sure to be the favourite.

The roads to Roubaix are another differing opportunity once again, but one which requires the least tangible and most transient of all race winning factors; luck. Perhaps because of this, Paris-Roubaix is seen has the crowning glory of the classics season for its ‘against the odds’ chances of winning. Lacking crucial climbs such as the Poggio or Paterberg as featured in Milan-San Remo and Flanders respectively; Paris-Roubaix has the ability to churn up contenders who have otherwise been absent during the campaign thus far. Perhaps the most tactically ridden of all the monuments, this cobbled juggernaut can see favourites’ chances wither rapidly after simply choosing the wrong wheel to follow over the pavé or digging too deep too soon in the race. This ensures a very anxious day where riders attempt to anticipate the moves of the day’s most fancied riders, in order to be one step ahead as the fireworks erupt dramatically in the peloton.

As ever it will be a difficult race to control, some of the major names here lack a team able to keep this occasion from boiling over and rosters which do display strength in numbers are subsequently lacking in a man convincing enough to win it come the end. The history books are perhaps a little overdue at present for an unexpected name to enter beneath the title of ‘monuments winners.’ There is no reason to exclude the possibility of a strong pack of well organised rouleurs making a bid for freedom and staying away with little cohesion from beyond the major names to chase. Underdogs will be much less inclined to play ‘cat and mouse’ in the later stages with any fellow escapees, as they will be all to aware how difficult it is to win this race; spurning the opportunity to contest the win due to silly games would be foolish.

The rider which nobody will wish to take all the way to the finish as either part of a small breakaway or bigger sized bunch is man of the moment Alexander Kristoff. Though his form has been clear already this season with dominant performances in the Middle East, De Panne and only being bettered by John Degenkolb when attempting to defend his Milan-San Remo title; it was still surprising when he added Tour of Flanders to his palmares recently too. His biggest benefit on that occasion was some surprisingly poor tactics from Dutchman Niki Terpstra, the Etixx-Quick Step man worked comfortably with the Norwegian danger man throughout; seemingly towing him to the finish in the absence of any meaningful attacks. With its flat terrain and arduous distance, Kristoff will view this as an opportunity to add another monument to his cabinet; a man who can absorb the efforts of others and be confident of being the fastest man at the finish should he be present in the leading group.

Finding such a surpsingly generous partner on his way to victory in Flanders must surely be the last time that will happen for a while given his form. Nobody will have the slightest interest in aiding Kristoff and, much like Geraint Thomas so far this season, is bound to find people missing their turns in a chase as they place everything on the Katusha man to close the gaps and hold the wheel. As mentioned earlier, some contenders come here with teams which are likely to see their support evaporate not long after Arenberg; meaning all the tactical nous will need using if he has the chance of winning as the most marked man here.

A man with an equal claim to being the fastest finisher in Roubaix is the German powerhouse John Degenkolb; the other monument winner so far in 2015. His build and mentality suit the testing cobblestones which so many fear and he seemed quite the revelation when taking the sprint for second place last year in the wake of Niki Terpstra’s astute race winning attack. It seems laughable to think Degenkolb could find himself squirrelled away in the group which reaches the line first, but many riders could be so eager to exploit an opportunity to distance Alexander Kristoff that they might allow the German’s presence in the meantime; rather than spurn the chance to crack Kristoff. With a team which includes Ramon Sinkledam and Bert De Backer, Degenkolb has a more fancied support team than his rival Kristoff; this should mean the need to ride aggressively becomes less apparent.

A man who may have previously been picked out as one of the main protagonists ahead of 2015’s Paris-Roubaix was Sep Vanmarcke; the talented Belgian prodigy still lacking a major title. Across his classics campaigns thus far, he has demonstrated a level of consistency which places him in similar regards as Fabian Cancellara. Though repeatedly entering these monuments as one of the strongest riders, Vanmarcke is plagued by misfortune and poor tactical decision making when it counts the most. He has also found Cancellara an indomitable foe despite a relatively short, yet prolific, role in the last few seasons on the cobbles alongside him. What makes it difficult to back Vanmarcke with absolute conviction is how stuttering his performances have been so far at Flanders, Gent-Wevelgem, Strade-Bianche and E3 Harelbeke. We have witnessed Herculean efforts against the odds at both Strade-Bianche and Flanders, ensuring that his conviction or desire to win these major races remains unquestioned. The queries which do surround Vanmarcke are predominantly based on his habit of expending too much energy when it is not necessary. During Gent-Wevelgem he mismanaged his finite resources and was unable to make the crucial moves in Flanders for, possibly, similar reasons. Of course, if he does arrive at the start in Compiegne on one of his good days, he will remain a man who cannot be allowed an inch during the final decisive kilometres on the approach to Roubaix.

Etixx-Quick Step will be confident of once again being the protagonists with the greatest numerical advantage during the crucial moments of the race, but have already squandered such advantages more than once this season. Niki Terpstra was beaten into second place by the ruthless Alexander Kristoff at Flanders, though it was still an ultimately impressive performance in terms of strength. However, as soon as it became apparent that these two were going to collaborate in an attempt to stay away, it was a given that Terpstra could not afford to simply tow the Norwegian into Oudenaarde when possessing such a potent sprint. This was just another page in the growing annals of Etixx-Quick Step’s incompetence when it comes to putting a race to bed in the face of golden opportunities. Terpstra is of course an extremely powerful ride to have onboard for a race such as Paris-Roubaix and comes here as the defending champion, but it seems more logical that they will back Czech road race champion Zdenek Stybar to lead their charge across the cobblestones instead. Stybar has been one of the most consistent riders in terms of performance; both physically and tactically. Featuring at the pivotal moments in E3-Harelbeke (when going clear with Peter Sagan and Geraint Thomas), Strade-Bianche (dispatching the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Greg Van Avermaet for the win) and played a solid team role during Flanders. Should both Terpstra and Stybar make it into the elite group, they surely have the majority of tactical outcomes covered and will feel confident of finally bring a classic home to Etixx-Quick Step this season.

Terpstra took the win last year after splintering off the front of the decisive breakaway and soon set about time trialling his way to the finish at Roubaix’s velodrome solo. One rider who will look to last year’s victory by the Dutchman as inspiration will surely be Bradley Wiggins; coming to the race with the intention of finishing his career with the famous cobblestone trophy held aloft his head. With the news that Wiggins has been timing the pavé sectors in order to gauge his efforts and the tempo of the peloton, no rider will have studied this race so meticulously as the British World Time Trial Champion. Many will argue that such a scientific approach to Paris-Roubaix is a waste of time, you need to be racing in the moment and reacting to the ever changing maelstrom which surrounds you. He might know how many watts to put out going through Arenberg, but does Wiggins have the ability to ‘read’ the cobblestones in order to stay upright and puncture free? The answer is a surprisingly positive one for the ageing Sky rider who has already contested this race on several occasions, dating back to his early days at Marc Madiot’s Francaise Des Jeux squad. His support will include the flying Welshman Geraint Thomas, strongman Ian Stannard, wiley lieutenant Berard Eisel and promising youngster Luke Rowe. These are all men who are happy to sacrifice themselves in order to ensure Wiggins a safer passage through the day and hopefully position him amongst the decisive riders towards the end of play.

For Wiggins, he will expect his teammates to soften up the other favourites for him, before attempting to breakaway solo and motor to the line with the huge engine he has. Something worth keeping mind is what could happen as a result of Geraint Thomas attacking; a man there to work for Wiggins. The bunch could try to call their bluff though and let Thomas get away, something which would need to be judged accurately to ensure he does not vanish up the road and takes the win for himself. Given that this is Wiggins final race and his last attempt at securing another palmares topping race win, would we perhaps even see him working to bring back his own teammate in desperation?

Horses for courses is a saying which perhaps serves cycling better than its intended sport, or any other sport for that matter. A sport where riders can pull  race winning performance out of thin air simply because they hold an affinity for the given terrain or course. Lars Boom is one such rider who should be included when summarising the danger men 2015’s Paris-Roubaix. He won the apocalyptic Tour de France stage which tackled the cobbles during last year’s race; taking the win in a rain soaked affair which saw the impressive efforts of Vincenzo Nibali triumphing over the treacherous stones while others faltered. This is not to say Boom’s claim to a Roubaix win is simply limited to that one day during Le Tour, a day where others have to measure their efforts for the next two weeks of further efforts. The Dutchman has appeared comfortable within the eye of the storm as the peloton hit crucial sectors at incredible speed and like Vanmarkce, is only bereft of a better showing here due to misfortune.

Greg Van Avermaet will have been disappointed to have no capitalised on the absence of both Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen during last week’s Tour of Flanders. Unable to bridge the gap to the leading pairing of Terpstra and Kristoff despite the assistance of Peter Sagan; Avaermaet finished third one a day where he really could have taken all the glory when looking so strong on the final ascent of the Paterberg. Despite Avermaet not necessarily appearing to be the typically styled rider to benefit in the cobbled classics, he has a fourth place at Paris-Roubaix and often ends up in the elite group during a arduous race. Though he might no have as great a level of depth in his support squad as other contenders here, he should have plenty of confidence with Daniel Oss as his key man; the Italian has appeared in superb condition this Spring so far.

A couple of seasons ago, many would not only have bet that Peter Sagan would have taken a monuments win by now, but probably had a small shelf dedicated solely to them. In reality however, Sagan has failed to kick on from the performances which first brought him centre stage on the WorldTour. As ever he remains a consistent finisher in anything from one day classics to three week grand tours and anything in between. Of the five annual monuments, Sagan has currently bagged two 4th place finishes at both Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders; leaving only Paris-Roubaix as a possible win as neither Liége-Bastogne-Liége or Giro di Lombardia favour his strengths. If Paris-Roubaix was 50km shorter, it would be easier to back his chances, but sadly for the Slovak rider, he often dwindles during these longer one day affairs. His overall form has been troublesome this year, during Strade-Bianche he went on the attack at one point, only to be caught and churned out the back as soon as he had been reeled in. During E3 Harelbeke he made the decisive move with Stybar and Thomas, but looked on the rivet during the last 20km; unable to take a turn and eventually bonked so hard after Thomas’ attack (and Stybar’s subsequent pursuit) he could not manage to hold on for third in the final few kilometres; instead finding his name plunged into the midsts of the chasing pack.

Another rider who seemed destined to become a major figure in the classics scene for the foreseeable future was Belgium’s Jurgen Roelandts. This year appears to be the best build-up he has ever had heading into Paris-Roubaix, stating throughout the media that he feels he can put in a solid performance on the cobbles. He appears to be feeling strong off the pack of encouraging showings at Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders; yet will not be that closely marked despite evident form. Like many dark horses at this race, their chances do not come when facing the major names head-to-head, but rather anticipating the moves and aiming to get ahead of the game before they make them. Roelandts remains one to watch and if he uses his head properly, could certainly be on the coattails of the elite group.

Reigning Belgian champion Jens Debusschere could be worth keeping an eye on for home fans too, with encouraging signs apparent heading into Paris-Roubaix. At Gent-Wevelgem he played his cards very close to his chest when making it into the decisive lead group and measured his efforts extremely closely when forcing the likes of Geraint Thomas and Niki Terpstra to close the gaps to the wheels ahead. Ultimately this possible unwillingness to chase blew up in his face as Luca Paolini capitalised on the cat and mouse to slip off the front and solo to victory. He has the capability to smuggle himself aboard a breakaway, but it will be another question as to whether or not he can cope with the subsequent attacks as riders aim to drop one another. If he is present in a group which makes it into Roubaix first, he is fast enough to be a key threat to the hopes of the strongmen with lesser finishing speeds after such a long race.

Outcome: 1st Zdenek Stybar 2nd Geraint Thomas 3rd Jens Debusschere