La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 4 Preview

Course:

Having left the day’s start of Escaldes – Engordany, the riders will face a 198.2km journey to the coastal finish at Tarragona, most of which being a gradual downhill route. The only classified climb of the day is the Category 3 Alto de Belltall, punctuating the day with a 13km rise at a gentle 2.8% and unlikely to cause much trouble for anyone. Once over the top, it is downhill all the way to the finish line, with a bunch sprint of sorts expected to decide the outcome. Position will be crucial, as plenty of road furniture in the way of roundabouts feature on the route into town, with a small 2.5% drag to make things more difficult still.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 4 Preview

Contenders:

John Degenkolb is often the man to beat on finales such as these, as even the slightest of inclines, seem to make the German almost unmatchable in the final moments. His form is certainly still bubbling up to the level we know from him, though this could prove to be the launchpad which signals his return to great form once again. The technical nature of the last few kilometres might be troublesome for him, especially as he would prefer a simple head to head drag race to the finish, concentrating simply of churning his pedals. Regardless, if he informs his team that he believes he can do it, then the expectation is that Degenkolb shall deliver on his word.

Edward Theuns might instead prove to be the card which Trek – Segafredo choose to play on Stage 4, backing the gifted Belgian to seize the opportunity while teammate Degenkolb waits for a more suiting finale. Theuns’ form has been blistering as of late, and if he has managed to sustain that when heading into La Vuelta, then there is a great chance he will be untouchable in the final metres of the stage. The jostling for position and drag up to the line are ideal for Theuns to make his skills count, attacking hard from a jumbled bunch of leadout trains and opening a gap which nobody can close.

Adam Blythe could be the joker in the pack on the second sprint stage at this year’s Vuelta a España, the British rider clearly aggrieved by the lack of a bunch kick on Stage 2, especially given the form he has possessed for such a long time now in 2017. This drag is not perfect, but such a gentle incline can still be decided simply by sprinting power, meaning those who lean closer towards being puncheurs are unlikely to better him. The leadout train at his disposal is certainly one of the top three at the race and they will be confident of positioning Blythe well here, allowing the Yorkshireman to focus on timing his effort perfectly.

Matteo Trentin was pleased to see his teammate Yves Lampaert take the win on Stage 2, though there is no doubt that the Italian would have fancied a more typical finish to the day’s proceedings, as he looked well positioned in the final moments to secure a win. Quick – Step have already looked impressive as a coherent unit during the race thus far and stand a good chance of proving why they are the best leadout train present at La Vuelta. With its tricky final kilometres, Trentin and his leadout men will relish the technicalities, applying pressure to their rivals and hoping to slingshot their Italian rocket skywards over the line.

Juan José Lobato is a real champion at winning upon uphill finishes, though he is likely to have wanted more of a severe challenge to really see the day play into his hands on today’s stage. Regardless, such talents do not always need the perfect conditions to succeed and there is every chance that he shall be in the mix for the win at the very least.

Other names to consider on a day such as this are Tom Van AsbroeckMichael SchwarzmannJens Debusschere and Jonas Van Genechten.

Outcome:

1st Adam Blythe 2nd Edward Theuns 3rd Michael Schwarzmann

 

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La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage Preview

La Vuelta a España 2017 – Stage 2 Preview

Course:

The first road stage of this year’s race is a 203.4km passage from yesterday’s French city of Nîmes to Gruissan, pushing the peloton closer to the Mediterranean coastline and the grand tour’s eventual reunion with Spain itself. With no recognised climbs throughout the entire stage, this incredibly flat day is all about the sprinters, as the outcome of a bunch sprint deciding the day seems impossible to argue against. Regardless, there shall no doubt be a futile breakaway to keep the cameras entertained (if possible) for the most part, with a catch likely to be made as last as possible. The finale itself looks to be a simple enough task to negotiate for those with eyes on the win, but a roundabout only 400m from the finish line does pose an interesting challenge for the favourites. Depending on how this impacts upon the leadout trains of the sprinters, this finish could become more about acceleration than maximum sprint speed.

La Vuelta a España 2017 - Stage 2 Preview

Contenders:

John Degenkolb offered glimpses of his best during this summer’s Tour de France and shall enter this race with the confidence that his abilities are returning to their best since suffering his well documented crash last year. Usually one to prefer tougher days in the saddle or finales with a bit of a ramp, this looks surprisingly within his grasp, as many of the top thoroughbred sprinters are not present at La Vuelta this year. His leadout train is not perfect, yet it is still better than what he was afforded during Le Tour de France, making him a standout candidate to assume pole position in the absence of more recognisable rivals.

Matteo Trentin has the rare opportunity to lead Quick – Step’s sprint ambitions at a grand tour and has been provided with great firepower to realise his goals; Bob Jungels, Niki Terpstra and Yves Lampaert all at his disposal in the sprints. The Italian rider has a great burst of speed which could be the deciding factor as the bunch exits the final roundabout, his teammates are well skilled in placing their protected rider in the ideal place during such decisive moments and Trentin may prove clinical during such a relatively short sprint.

Adam Blythe was part of the leadout team for Peter Sagan at one point, though clearly has the ability to take charge of a team’s sprinting hopes at grand tour level. The former British champion will be aware that a wide open field of sprinters makes it unlikely that one will dominate this entire race, giving him a better chance of winning than he perhaps originally expected here. The course suits him particularly well and his form has seen him collect a clutch of second place finishes recently, giving the suggestion that a breakthrough is imminent for the Yorkshireman. Aqua Blue Sport are expected to be able to offer him a great leadout in the final kilometres, setting him up to burst forth and surge late to the line.

Sacha Modolo often struggles to sustain periods of great form, beginning this year’s Vuelta without a blistering season of wins and now lacking the quality of leadout which saw him perform so well for Lampre – Merida previously. If this becomes a trickier finale than anticipated, where the final roundabout could create a messy last few hundred metres, Modolo is a canny rider who can spot the perfect wheel to follow en route to victory. However, he does not have a great number of experienced teammates at his disposal, and if isolated before the final kilometre, he might not make it into contention to even make the most of his skills which have already delivered him grand tour wins.

Mangnus Cort would normally be a frontrunner on a day such as, yet the fact his team is well stocked with riders aiming for the overall victory, Orica – Scott may have already made the decision that his chances will come later in the race; protecting team leaders being the priority during a hectic first week for now. If he is allowed to make his own attempt at the win on Stage 2, then he will be one of the fastest present and a real threat to the likes of John Degenkolb and Matteo Trentin, even without a leadout train to support him.

Other expected to feature in the final top ten placings of the day are; Jens DebusschereJonas van GenechtenTom Van Asbroeck and José Joaquín Rojas.

Outcome:

1st Adam Blythe 2nd Matteo Trentin 3rd John Degenkolb

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 16 Preview

Course:

The first stage back after a rest day always generates a degree of trepidation for the riders, as some return feeling fresher after a day free of the rigours of racing, while others sense their form begin to go off the boil. Signalling the return to the saddle for the peloton is an 165km trip from Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-Sur-Isère, offering little in the way of easing the riders back into the swing of things with its immediate uphill start. The opening rise forms the Category 3 Côte de Boussoulet, a 4.5km long ascent which averages a hard to ignore 6.3% gradient throughout its slopes. From its summit the road continues to roll for around another 40km, eventually tackling the relatively short Col du Rouvey and its subsequent fast descent. After dropping into the valley, the road does not feature a great deal of topographical challenges, though crosswinds could play a pivotal role in deciding the composition of any leading group late in the day. Whoever does reach the final kilometre first will face a very technically demanding run into the finishing line itself, with tight turns and roundabouts packed in to make things even more stressful. It may even prove tempting for some sprinters to chance their luck in the day’s breakaway in order to avoid such a hectic conclusion to Stage 16.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 16 Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff is a master at measuring his efforts when the crosswinds begin scything apart the peloton, even going as far as to say he enjoys their destructive nature and the familiarity it brings having spent much time cycling along the Norwegian coastline. His main goal will be to survive the opening climb within touching distance of his main rivals for Stage 16, after which if successful, there will be a great chance for him to collect a Tour de France victory in 2017. With the winds potentially turning this into an arduous return to racing, combined with a technical finale, Kristoff should be able to emerge as a major contender for stage honours here.

Michael Matthews and his team will appreciate how crucial today could prove in the battle for the green jersey, having already secured a brilliant stage win in the absence of Marcel Kittel before the rest day. Stage 16 is another chance to turn the screw on the dominant German sprinter, likely aiming to make racing hard from the very start and hoping to drop Kittel as soon as possible. Though not renowned for his prowess in crosswinds, his teammates do offer plenty of experience in surviving the challenges it throws their way, so Matthews is likely to be in safe hands. A harder day will blunt the top end speed of his faster rivals, while the late turns and road furniture could derail a few leadout trains too, but he will need to be in the leading group before he can worry about victory. Matthews will be contesting this on an almost flat finish, so everything will need to fall perfectly into place if he is to stand a chance of winning and cutting the lead of Marcel Kittel upon the maillot vert.

Greg Van Avermaet could prove to have eyes upon joining the day’s breakaway if able to muster the sort of form we have previously seen from the classics specialist at Le Tour de France. He knows that life will be hard if a bunch kick ends up deciding the day, especially given the lack of incline, but the Belgian has a great chance of being the fastest rider present if he smuggles himself aboard a successful move. Unlikely to fear life in the crosswinds, Avermaet will know how to look after himself as best as possible and even identify the riders who are most likely to contribute towards forming a breakaway which will survive a day out front.

John Degenkolb looks to be on the up once again and Stage 16 does provide an opportunity which suits him more ideally than those which have already been sent his way. A powerful rider, Degenkolb is capable of producing the efforts required to make the cut if echelons form during the day; his immense strength a huge asset over his lighter weight sprinting rivals. Much like his countryman Marcel Kittel, his greatest challenge will be hauling himself up the opening climb of the day and ensuring he has enough left in reserve to battle it out in the final kilometres. He lacks team support to help him navigate the technical run into the finish, but a hard race could thin the ranks enough to give Degenkolb a better chance at victory.

Edvald Boasson Hagen shall certainly want to see his current form put to good use and is another rider who could potentially join the breakaway if he does not fancy his chances in a larger sprint at the end of the day. He can certainly climb well enough on his day to make the key moves, has the strength to manage life in the crosswinds and is often one of the freshest at the end of a tough race. Team Dimension Data have been working hard to produce a good result since the departure of Mark Cavendish, so should view Stage 16 as an opportunity to finally see their determination secure themselves a taste of victory once again.

Nacer Bouhanni has proven incredibly tough to gauge during this year’s Tour de France, though if he is returning to top form, then this will be the day to demonstrate so. With its anticipated nature and technical finale, Bouhanni has the tenacity required to ensure he finds himself stuck to the right wheel throughout Stage 16. Another fast finisher who lacks a convincing team support on days such as these, the Frenchman will no doubt see his chances of winning improve if the number of riders able to contest the outcome is greatly reduced by a hard race.

Other names to consider for both sprint and breakaway are Ben SwiftSonny ColbrelliStephen CummingsMarcel KittelDylan GroenewegenAndré Greipel and Davide Cimolai.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Edvald Boasson Hagen 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 14 Preview

Course:

A victory of great panache by Warren Barguil secured a back to back correct prediction for Spokenforks yesterday, tightening his grip upon the polka dot jersey and managing to take France’s first Bastille Day win at Le Tour since 2005. Today’s 181.5km course from Blagnac to Rodez will be a tougher affair to predict than yesterday, rolling terrain lending itself well to the ambitions of the breakaway, though an uphill finish to the day will have caught the eyes of several punchier sprinters and their teams. The first of two Category 3 ascents, Côte du viaduc du Viaur (2.3km, avg. 7%) is followed relatively quickly by the Côte de Centrès (2.3km, avg. 7%), neither of which are likely to cause much of an issue for breakaway or bunch alike. Though uncategorised by the race manual, a following rise is then apparent en route to Bonnecombe, which could potentially prove a useful launchpad as the break begins to fracture late on. The road starts to drop back down to Rodez, while the tension ratchets up ahead of the decisive climb of Côte de Saint-Pierre, which lasts just 570m and averages a tough 9.6%. Expectations are that an elite sprint finish will crown the day’s winner, though this is the Tour de France and life rarely goes to plan.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 14 Preview

Contenders:

Greg Van Avermaet has not shown his face a great deal at this year’s race, no doubt hoping to keep himself out of trouble and in good condition ahead of today’s finish, having previously won in Rodez at the Tour de France a couple of years ago. There will be a greater amount of pressure upon the Belgium to perform now BMC’s general classification hopes have left with Richie Porte in the back of an ambulance, but also a greater degree of team support as a result. With stage wins now the team’s main agenda, everyone will be fully aware of how ideal today’s finale is for Van Avermaet and they will do their utmost to control the race especially for him.

Michael Matthews should be motivated on a day which could help him massively in the green jersey competition, as the finish will be his greatest chance of taking a victory with Marcel Kittel firmly out of the picture. His team are on a high as of yesterday’s Bastille Day victory with Warren Barguil and will be hoping to continue their success with another strong showing on Stage 14. His climbing prowess has repeatedly allowed him to showcase how much stronger he is going uphill than many of his rivals, placing him in good stead for the tests expected here. A hard day and a hard ridden finish will favour Matthews, one of the most durable riders outside of the general classification big names, possessing a brilliant uphill sprinting talent to see it off emphatically.

Philippe Gilbert fits the bill well of a potential winner for Stage 14, having the endurance required to follow the rolling attacks and sprint convincingly over the Côte de Saint-Pierre in order to distance his opposition. His greatest strength will be the support, specifically positionally speaking, of his teammates as they guide him through the concluding half of this stage. The competition will be fierce for the win today, though Gilbert has the grit to suffer the punches and emerge sharpest when it matters most.

Diego Ulissi has carved out a talent for this style of finale, so should be looking upon this with eager eyes and serious conviction to be amongst the frontrunners on the Côte de Saint-Pierre. The Italian is not at his best right now, yet should be able to contest this outcome at least, given it being towards the lower end of his toughest career victories. UAE Team Emirates have focused plenty of effort in placing Louis Meintjes well in pursuit of the white jersey, though shall be eager to take a potential stage win by switching their support to the celebrated Italian for the day.

Sonny Colbrelli will no doubt have circled this as a day to aim for since the route was first released, but would surely have liked to be sat before it in stronger condition than currently seen to be riding in. Despite this fact, Colbrelli has done well at major races when somewhat below par by simply riding smarter than his rivals, maintaining freshness for the last push to the line. With limited team support, he may end up becoming swamped by the stronger teams around him late on, so might actually prefer a tougher selection process for the finale.

John Degenkolb does have form for producing brilliantly strong efforts upon late rises to the line, yet is likely to be further down the pecking order in Rodez as a result of lacking form and weaker team support. The German has not been able to produce the level of performance previously seen by him at Le Tour de France, but can expect to edge closer to victory now the race is getting tougher for the more lightweight sprinters. Powerful enough to grind a huge gear over such a short climb, this is well within his capabilities on paper, though has not shown enough up until now to suggest he will take the win.

Daniel Martin has survived his collision with Richie Porte relatively well, though yesterday’s post-race walk to the team bus did showcase just how much pain and bruising the Irishman has suffered as a result of his misfortune. Surprisingly strong yesterday, his teammates have rallied round him to accelerate his recovery as best as possible when riding a grand tour and he definitely looks dangerous enough to challenge for stage honours if the race lends itself to the maillot jaune group. This short and sharp conclusion to the day is ideal for Martin to attack upon, but it is not necessarily likely he will be in a position to do precisely that. If however the battle for the yellow jersey swallows up the day’s smaller moves, then Martin is the most likely to win from such an outcome.

Tony GallopinJan BakelantsEdvald Boasson HagenBen Swift and Alberto Bettiol could all cause an upset from either a breakaway or simply bursting forth from a bunch sprint when least expected.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Greg Van Avermaet 3rd Philippe Gilbert

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 11 Preview

Course:

A return to days in the saddle which stretch beyond the double century marker, Stage 11 makes its way from Eymet to the seemingly ever present Tour de France town of Pau. Totalling 203.5km from start to finish, there is very little in the way of elevation gain to worry about, with the vast majority of the day’s racing being contested upon flat roads. However, there is one recognised climb in the shape of the Category 4 Côte d’Aire-sur-l’Adour, which will be tackled after 145km of riding. The outcome should be another opportunity to witness a bunch kick, but with Marcel Kittel’s dominance only increasing, he may find allies wishing to chase down the day’s break alongside him dwindling; the escapees could cause a stir perhaps.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage 11 Preview

Contenders:

Marcel Kittel has repeatedly turned in such ruthless performances at this year’s Tour de France, that it now seems futile to analyse his performance beyond the fact that nobody else seems near his level right now. Having surfed the wheels in the final kilometres with only a single leadout man to help him during yesterday, Kittel calmly found a route to the head of affairs and then proceeded to bury the competition with ease once again. If he finds rival teams willing to help control the day’s breakaway and eventually reel them in, then it looks like another victory is on the cards for the current green jersey holder.

Nacer Bouhanni and his Cofidis team did perform well on Stage 10, though it soon became apparent that the Frenchman is still unable to begin eating into Marcel Kittel’s lead once the sprinting kicks off at full speed. Though today’s finale contains a few roundabouts, it should prove less technically demanding than the previous day’s run to the finish, likely to make Bouhanni’s chances of winning smaller once again.

André Greipel saw the brilliant work of his Lotto-Soudal leadout train amount to nothing more than an unexpectedly poor 11th place finish on Stage 10. Having ridden hard in the final kilometres to shield their captain from the wind and convincingly marshall the front of the peloton, Greipel was unable to produce an effort capable of challenging Marcel Kittel as previously seen. As stated before, the longer the race goes on the better Lotto-Soudal’s chances will be of nabbing a stage win off Kittel, especially once the attritional nature sets in.

Dan McLay finally timed his sprint earlier than previously seen at this race, though admitted himself that starting so much earlier than his rivals was only ever going to result in him dying before the line. Regardless, the performance will have provided a degree of confidence to the British sprinter and he will now have greater insight to time his attack perfectly on the next attempt.

Alexander Kristoff has seen his leadout team work well so far, but they will have to work wonders if they are to catapult the Norwegian beyond the blistering acceleration of Marcel Kittel. This longer distance will favour Kristoff, though it is not gruelling enough to really bring his grittiest talents into play en route to Pau. If they can lean upon Quick – Step to commit an even greater effort to the chase, then their extra energy might be able to put Alexander Kristoff in a favourable position heading into this relatively short 600m finishing straight.

Other sprinters likely to contest the day’s outcome are Edvald Boasson HagenRudiger SeligDylan Groenewegen and John Degenkolb.

Outcome:

1st Marcel Kittel 2nd André Greipel 3rd Dan McLay

Le Tour de France 2017

Le Tour de France 2017 – Stage 3 Preview

Course:

Though this is earmarked as another day for a bunch sprint to decide the outcome, Stage 3’s 212.5km journey from Verviers to Longwy offers a far greater number of rolling roads than yesterday and finishes with an uphill battle to the line at Côte des Religieuses. Rather than simply seeing the fastest riders in the race lay claim to stage honours, we can expect the puncheurs and those fond of classics style finales to also show their faces during the final moments. There shall be a heated battled for position as the peloton turns onto the final climb of Côte des Religieuses, opening with an incline of 8.2%, meaning there is a chance of getting stuck behind fatigued riders sliding out the back. At 1.6km in length, it manages to reach a maximum gradient of 11%, though the last 500m are considerably easier at 3% – 4%.

Le Tour de France 2017 Stage 3 Preview

Contenders:

Michael Matthews has established himself as a consistent performer upon these difficult uphill stage finishes in recent years and even won a similar challenge earlier this season at Tour de Suisse. He climbs far better than a typical sprinter and has the ability to still produce a blistering acceleration after having hauled himself up a late climb such as today’s. Support from teammate Nikias Arndt could prove decisive, as the opportunity to conserve any ounce of energy for the deciding sprint will be a great advantage for the Australian.

Peter Sagan could open his account early at this year’s race with a stage win in Longwy and will be considered the man to beat by fans and riders alike. Though he has always been quick in a kick to the line, it is these attritional conclusions which he has improved upon immensely and now finds himself a true specialist at winning upon. Sagan is brilliant at positioning himself without the guidance of others, though may finally have support in the closing moments of a stage in the shape of Jay McCarthy. Regardless, the reigning world champion will not worry if isolated and shall be confident of finding the gap required to surge forth in order to take the win.

Greg Van Avermaet is the thorn in the side of Peter Sagan on days like these, as the Belgian has risen to become one of the few riders who can consistently put the Slovakian to the sword in a head to head contest. His form might not be sparkling right now, and he does have eyes on stages later in the race as well, but his talent for uphill sprints makes him a real contender despite this. If the weather makes it a more attritional day, then Avermaet’s chances will improve further still; as the closer Stage 3 gets to becoming a Belgian classic, the more likely it is that he will take the stage.

John Degenkolb surprisingly missed out on a top ten placing on yesterday’s stage, but could be saving his efforts specifically to challenge for the win atop Côte des Religieuses. He recently finished behind Michael Matthews and Peter Sagan at the Tour de Suisse on a similar finale, suggesting that his form could be better than expected at Le Tour de France. Degenkolb can produce huge amounts of power to get over these inclines, though could come unstuck if the sprint is ignited from further out than expected, leaving him with nothing else to call upon once the inclines soften towards the line.

Phillipe Gilbert is capable of producing a potent display of aggressive riding on Stage 3’s final climb, arriving at Le Tour off the back of one of his most successful Spring campaigns for sometime. The former world champion will be able to utilise his dominance upon Amstel Gold’s Cauberg to help gauge his efforts today and can lean upon an extremely talented group of teammates to set him up for grand tour glory.

Sonny Colbrelli seems one of the most difficult riders to gauge form of, often producing eye catching results out of thin air at major races, then seemingly unable to reproduce it on days tailored to his abilities. The Italian rider should be interested in this finish, though much like John Degenkolb, could discover that it leaves him short of the pace required in the last 500m to secure victory.

Other names who have the potential to steal the show are Diego Ulissi, Michael AlbasiniZdeněk ŠtybarEdvald Boasson Hagen and Arthur Vichot.

Outcome:

1st Michael Matthews 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Greg Van Avermaet

Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview

Paris – Roubaix – Race Preview 2017

Course:

The season’s cobbled campaign reaches its crescendo at Paris – Roubaix once again, the preceding weeks of gruelling Spring races in Northern Europe having given us a glimpse of who is mostly likely to survive another ‘Sunday In Hell’. Stretching a total of 257km from the start at Compiègne – Choisy-Au-Bac to the historic finale at the Roubaix velodrome. Tackling 29 official sectors en route to the finish, riders will not only require the strength and determination to succeed, but also the light touch of luck to steer clear of danger throughout the maelstrom. The riders are gifted 100km to prepare themselves for the barrage of challenges, hitting their first cobbled sector after the century marker and finding little in the way of relief until the finish line is crossed or they climb off their bike. As ever, much anxiety will be heaped upon the riders’ passage through the crucial sectors of Care Four de l’Arbre, Mons-en-Pevele and Arenberg forest; the fight for position entering these being some of the most intense riding during the day. Of all the classics which form the monuments in cycling, Paris – Roubaix is perhaps the one which sees the greatest number of star riders lose out through bad luck rather than poor form, meaning an upset is always on the cards at this iconic race. Regardless, whomever is crowned 2017’s champion will have achieved it through no fluke, as every rider who enters the Roubaix velodrome does so gripped by exhaustion. There is no ‘easy’ way to win Paris – Roubaix.

Paris - Roubaix 2017 Race Preview Route

Contenders:

John Degenkolb was unable to defend his title last year due to a training accident which almost cost him a finger and will now be extremely motivated to compensate for his previous absence by performing strongly once again. The German seems built to dominate this race and it is easy to imagine that this 2017 edition may have been poised to complete a hat-trick of wins had he been able to contest the monument last year. His immense strength has seen him as one of the best riders behind the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet during the early semi-classics this year, but on many of those occasions it was the dreaded hellingen which prevented him from challenging for the win. Today features no such cobbled climbs, making it a levelling factor which plays into his hands. It will take plenty of effort to detach Degenkolb, should the frontrunners fail to achieve this, then nobody will be faster than the German at the end of this race as they enter Roubaix.

Peter Sagan saw his ambitions of defending his title at Ronde van Vlaanderen wiped out by a rogue coat, causing himself Oliver Naesen and Greg Van Avermaet to crash upon the cobblestones. His classics campaign has not been as easy as many expected, Sagan having to cope with negative riding and limited team support compared to teams such as Quick – Step and Trek – Segafredo. Though the results may not immediately demonstrate it, Sagan has been indomitable for much of these semi-classic races and will believe himself strong enough to compensate for a lack of team strength once the race becomes a ‘man vs man’ battle. He is not always the fastest at the end of a tough race such as this, so will need to focus upon conserving energy and allow Quick – Step to take control of affairs for the day.

Oliver Naesen has risen rapidly during the Spring to become one of the few riders capable of matching the likes of Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet. He was in a fantastic position at the Tour of Flanders, but was unfortunate enough to be taken out by a spectator alongside Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet before he could make any moves for victory. Naesen is an aggressive rider who will not wish to simply sit on the wheel and wait to be ridden off, capable of attacking solo from range, he is also talented enough to be a danger in a sprint. However, those most likely to match him are all faster than he is on paper, but nothing is guaranteed once Paris – Roubaix reaches its conclusion. The course suits Naesen’s skills extremely well, and if he rides a cunning enough race, he will be the most likely to cause an upset.

Greg Van Avermaet has become the classics specialists which many had long expected him to become, dominating 2017’s opening classics with apparent ease and the only man able to put Peter Sagan to the sword when given the chance. The Belgian is not as well suited to the rigours of Paris – Roubaix however, as much of Avermaet’s riding is built around his immense acceleration on some of Europe’s toughest cobbled climbs. He is in the form of his life right now, so he cannot be dismissed simply because the terrain is not perfect, instead it is likely that Avermaet will look to follow the wheel of favourites such as John Degenkolb and Peter Sagan, expecting to then dispatch them with ease in a sprint for the line.

Alexander Kristoff is not currently in the same monstrous form as that which delivered him immense success in 2015, yet there are signs to suggest he is once again on the rise to the top. Kristoff does not possess an eye-catching history at Paris – Roubaix, which is surprising when considering his physical attributes, though he certainly has what it takes to succeed if he commits everything to it. His ability to suffer through the hardest of days in the saddle is well documented, but given the encouraging weather forecast for the day, this year’s edition is unlikely to be the attritional affair which would see Kristoff become favourite.

Tom Boonen bids farewell to life as a professional cyclist with one final appearance at Paris – Roubaix, a race which he has conquered on four occasions, confirming himself as one of the greatest Belgians to have ridden this race. Boonen will be inspired to deliver a famous farewell to the sport, aiming to claim victory for a fifth time and become its most successful competitor in history. Quick – Step are once again the strongest team in this one day classic, but their mix of potential victors means Boonen will not be afforded total support. Plenty needs to go in his favour throughout the day to arrive at Roubaix with the leading riders, but should he do so, there is no doubt that he has the gritty determination to lift the cobblestone one last time.

Others who are anticipated to animate the race and challenge for the win are Niki TerpstraZdenek StybarLuke DurbridgeIan StannardLuke Rowe and Florian Sénéchal.

Outcome:

1st Oliver Naesen 2nd Peter Sagan 3rd Tom Boonen