For a race historically associated with horrendous conditions, slippery cobbles threatening treachery with every pedal stroke, there’s a greater chance of another dry and dusty race for a 16th straight year.
They are the conditions that allowed Greg van Avermaet to win the fastest Paris-Roubaix on record in 2017 - 5:41:07 had gone by when he outfoxed Stybar and Sebastian Langeveld in the velodrome – nearly 10 minutes faster than Australia’s Mathew Hayman the year before.
From the royal and imperial city of Compiègne, the peloton will head south to the gritty, industrial working class hub of Roubaix via 29 sectors of pavé, totalling 54.5km. This year’s 116th edition of the race features a nod to the signing of the 1918 Armistice to end WWI, with the peloton skirting the Compiègne Forest and the Glade of the Armistice.
Known as the ‘Hell of the North’, Paris-Roubaix delivers in brutality that requires aggressive racing from start to finish. Among the 29 sectors of pavé are the traditional focus points of Trouée d'Arenberg, the Mons-en-Pévèle sector and the Carrefour de l'Arbre.
What perhaps sets Paris – Roubaix apart is its unpredictability, and the first Australian winner, Stuart O’Grady in 2007 is a great illustration of that. O’Grady ‘s puncture in the Arenberg Forest should have meant game over, and the crash that followed can be devastating – not everything went right, but at the same time, it did.
The verdict: On current form, you would be brave not to think that Quick-Step Floors will have one or more riders in contention in the finale – perhaps this Sunday is the turn of Philippe Gilbert or Zdenek Stybar. Greg van Avermaet (BMC) is defending champion and along with Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe), shares the expectation of being the men with the strength to spoil the Quick-Step party.
Mads Pedersen was a revelation at Flanders and with teammates Jasper Stuyven and John Degenkolb there is some expectation on Trek-Segafredo. Team Sky has options in Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Gianni Moscon.
EF-Drapac seems to be without luck, despite threatening to be on the verge over the last fortnight.
Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) was hovering at the back end of Flanders and his turn of speed could come in handy in the finale.
In good news for the Australians, Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain Merida) is in great form and with Roubaix always a chance for a breakaway to stay away, Luke Durbridge’s chances also receive a boost for Mitchelton-Scott.