The 2015 edition of the legendary Paris-Roubaix is scheduled for April 11 and the majority of the best one-day racers in the world have thrown their casquettes in the ring, including three-time champ Fabian Cancellara, the ever-dangerous Peter Sagan, and the living legend Bradley Wiggins.
With so many able riders in the bunch, handicapping the field is an exercise in guesswork. The only real certainty heading into Paris-Roubaix is that every rider will experience A Sunday in Hell, as the paved roads of northern Paris turn to a minefield of pave and wagon-tracks that eventually lead to Roubaix’s famed velodrome.
Last year, Dutchman Niki Terpstra entered the velodrome alone after escaping from a small breakaway with under 10 km to go. He was able to hold off a late push from Cancellara, Sep Vanmarcke, and Job Degenkolb to earn his first Monument. The win was a bit of a surprise, as Terpstra was not among the pre-race favorites.
Will the defending champ garner more respect this year? Check out our preview of the favorites, below, complete with odds to win.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek): 5/1
Cancellara, a.k.a. “Spartacus”, is one of the best Monuments riders of his generation. At 6’1″, 182 lbs., the Swiss national is positively stocky as far as cyclists are concerned. Cancellara’s raw strength has powered him to three victories at Paris-Roubaix and three more at the Tour of Flanders. He also has a win at Milan-San Remo under his belt.
Though he knows the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix as well as anyone, Cancellara won’t have the same resources as many of the others on this list. While Sep Vanmarcke, Tom Boonen, and Peter Sagan will likely be guided by super-domestiques, Cancellara may have trouble finding teammates capable of keeping up. That said, having able teammates is more important at the start of the race; the winner often emerges from a late breakaway of lone wolves, and Cancellara finds himself in that breakaway more often than not.
Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo): 13/2
Vanmarcke came tantalizingly close to his first monument win at the 2013 Paris-Roubaix, finishing second (by a hair’s breadth) to Cancellara. He followed that up with a strong fourth-place showing in 2014.
It’s not clear which of Vanmarcke’s teammates will be joining him on the start line this year; but, between Wilco Kelderman, Robert Gesink, and Moreno Hofland, LottoNL (formerly Belkin) should be able to find the manpower to give Vanmarcke a helping hand. If he can avoid the litany of calamities that can and will befall many riders, Vanmarcke should be in the mix at the end once again.
Jon Degenkolb (Giant-Alpecin): 8/1
Tom Boonen originally rounded out our top-three, but the one-day cavant (who boasts four wins at Paris-Roubaix) suffered a dislocated shoulder on the first day of Paris-Nice and won’t be riding any Classics this year. Taking Boonen’s place in third is Giant-Alpecin’s Jon Degenkolb.
There are two very good reasons to like Degenkolb’s chances: (1) he finished second at Paris-Roubaix last year (so we know he can handle the cobbles) and (2) he just won the first Monument of his career at Milan-San Remo (so we know he’s on form).
If Paris-Roubaix comes down to a sprint (like Milan-San Remo), Marcel Kittel’s former lead-out man will be extremely hard beat.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky): 10/1
The former Tour de France winner and Olympic gold medalist has set his sights on two things this year: the hour record and Paris-Roubaix. He will break the hour record – as it was essentially reset last year, and he need only best 43-year-old Jens Voigt under the new parameters – but Paris-Roubaix is another beast entirely. Not only do you need to have the legs, but you need to have luck on your side, as well.
That said, Wiggins was part of the late breakaway that propelled Terpstra to victory last year. If he has truly dedicated himself to preparing for Paris-Roubaix, he will have the strength and stamina to be part of a similar move.
It remains to be seen whether Sky will devote all their resources to “Wiggo”, or whether Welshman Geraint Thomas (who has the strength to win, himself) will be free to ride his own race.
Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo): 11/1
Sagan has dominated the points classification at the Tour de France for the last three years (so much so that this year’s points system has been amended to keep things competitive), proving nearly impossible to drop except on steep mountain terrain.
His success in individual Tour stages has long portended great things at the Monuments for Sagan; while he has good results on his palmares (including second-place finishes at the Tour of Flanders (2013) and Milan-San Remo (2013), plus a top-ten at Paris-Roubaix last year), he has failed to deliver a victory.
This year may be his best chance yet, however. Sagan transferred to the powerhouse Tinkoff-Saxo team in the off-season. Instead of finding himself teammate-less in the crux – as he so often did last year – Sagan should have Daniele Bennati, Matti Breschel, et al. aiding him in crunch time.
The Defending Champ:
Once again, Niki Terpstra does not make the top-five pre-race favorites. That isn’t a slight to Terpstra, more a vote of confidence in the riders who are on the list, plus a recognition that sustained success at Paris-Roubaix is hard to come by.
But don’t be surprised if Terpstra plays a prominent role in this year’s race. As I’ve stressed, Paris-Roubaix is one of the toughest races to predict.
(Photo credit: Felouch Kotek (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)