This weekend’s Paris-Roubaix marks the 119th edition of the men’s race and the second edition of the women’s race.
Labeled the ‘Hell of the North’ by fans around the world, it is one of the highlights of the cycling calendar and often provides incredible drama as the riders subject themselves to the pain of the pavé.
The winners of last year’s races – Sonny Colbrelli and Lizzie Deignan – are both not competing in the French classic this time around. Colbrelli is continuing his recovery after collapsing at the end of a stage of the Volta a Catalunya last month, while Deignan is pregnant with her second child and sitting out the 2022 season.
But that does little to diminish the plethora of talent on show in both platoons on what is one of the great sporting weekends of the year.
Women’s Paris-Roubaix (124.7km): Saturday 16 April – Live coverage on Eurosport 1 from 1pm BST. Men’s Paris-Roubaix (257.2km): Sunday 17 April – Live coverage on Eurosport 1 from 10.30am BST.
Dutch sensation Mathieu van der Poel is coming off the back of a second Tour of Flanders victory as he eyes up a first Paris-Roubaix title.
The 27-year-old finished third back in October when the race was pushed to the end of the season due to the pandemic. He could not live with Colbrelli in the final dash to the line, but his confidence in him will be flying high this time around after outsmarting and outgunning Tadej Pogacar in the closing stages of Flanders.
If he is to secure a superb Roubaix-Flanders double then he would become only the fourth rider from the Netherlands to win both races. Van der Poel would also be the first man since Fabian Cancellara in 2013 to win the two monuments in the same year.
Aside from Van der Poel, the other major talking point ahead of the men’s race is the return of his lifelong nemesis Wout van Aert.
The Belgian was left gutted after being forced to miss Flanders due to a positive coronavirus test. Now he is back on the bike and set to start Roubaix in what is being described as a ‘support role’ for teammate Christophe Laporte.
It’s safe to say that – coming off the back of contracting Covid – Van Aert will not be firing on all cylinders. But such is the talent of the 27-year-old all-rounder, he is still a contender despite his flawed preparation. Whether he contests the finish is another question altogether, but you feel he will undoubtedly have a say on the outcome of the race.
Outside of Van der Poel and Van Aert, former world champion Mads Pedersen will definitely be contesting the win after top 10 finishes in Milan-San Remo, Gent-Wevelgem and Flanders.
Kasper Asgreen is also being tipped by many, although the Flanders course definitely suited him better and he failed to hang with Van der Poel and Tadej Pogacar on the toughest sections there.
Ineos Grenadiers’ time trial specialist Filippo Ganna is an interesting name to consider and perhaps the surprise package heading into Sunday’s race.
And then there is Britain’s Olympic gold medalist Tom Pidcock. The Yorkshire-born rider looked as if he had the legs to win the Amstel Gold Race last weekend before race tactics saw him surf the wheels as his teammate Michal Kwiatkowski took the win. Pidcock is unquestionably out to challenge the likes of Van der Poel on the very toughest of terrains.
Meanwhile, the anticipation for the second-ever Women’s Paris-Roubaix has not wilted from the carnival atmosphere produced at the first.
Belgian cycling fans were treated to a sensational performance two weeks ago when Kopecky took victory at the Tour of Flanders in front of a set of delirious home supporters.
Now she travels to France in the hope of producing the same result in Roubaix. And she has every reason to believe she can become the first woman to claim both classics in the same season.
Kopecky’s strength on the cobbles and speed in a sprint make her a formidable force. If you can beat Kopecky then it’s highly probable you can win this race.
With that said, Trek-Segafredo hold a host of cards they can choose to play throughout the 124.7 kilometers.
The absence of Deignan has done little to diminish their strength in depth. Elisa Longo Borghini, Audrey Cordon-Ragot, Ellen van Dijk, Lucinda Brand and Elisa Balsamo will all line up for the superstar-filled team and that could prove to be a crucial factor in how the race plays out.
Then there is the everpresent Annemiek van Vleuten. At 39 years of age it would be understandable for the Dutch star to begin to gradually decline. But she showed in Flanders that Van Vleuten simply does not subscribe to that mentality.
Kopecky got the better of her in the sprint finish as she was forced to settle for second place. However, that will only make her hungrier for the win here—especially given it is the only race of her missing from her incredible palmares (primarily because it only began last year).
And then the other major contender to watch out for is FDJ’s Grace Brown. The 29-year-old Australian missed the inaugural Women’s Paris-Roubaix last year through injury.
Now she will contest the race for the first time and there is no doubting the cobbles will suit her down to the gutter. In the absence of Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, all the team’s hopes will be pinned on her to improve upon her seventh-place finish in Flanders.
It promises to be another epic weekend of racing as the women take center stage on Saturday before the men’s race on Sunday.