Paris-Roubaix has somehow engendered this awed reverence, a sepia-toned preciousness that doesn’t, to me, feel completely congruent with its reality. To me, Paris-Roubaix is more like the cycling equivalent of a monster truck rally. There’s mud (if you’re lucky). There’s mayhem. It takes place in the boondocks of Northern France, and beer gets consumed in massive quantities.
SUNDAY! SUNDAY! SUNDAY!
I could see it.
Picking a winner for this year’s race feels harder than last weekend’s Ronde van Vlaanderen. Paris-Roubaix has a chaos factor that most other races don’t. Crashes and mechanicals can take out the strongest rider in the blink of an eye.
Can Alexander Kristoff do the double? In short, yes, he can. Formerly known as a sprinter, Kristoff has an ability to climb better than any other specialist finisher. He can ride hard over long distances. He’s tough. He very well could be the next Classics legend in the making, except that this race doesn’t much follow a form sheet. The Arenberg Forest alone can end a favorite’s hopes simply by piling up the peloton at an inopportune time.
Who else could win? My friend Nick, a good predictor of podiums as long as I’ve know him, likes John Degenkolb, or as Nick calls him, “The Stache.” Then there’s defending champ Niki Terpstra, who had a pretty good race last week. Don’t forget my favorite, Geraint Thomas, or even sentimentally (for some) Bradley Wiggins. Without Tom Boonen or Fabian Cancellara, in fact their era of dominance may well be over, the stage is set for a new hard man to begin a legacy, but who?
This week’s Group Ride, quite predictably asks you to predict the winner for L’Enfer du Nord. In fact, let’s predict win, place and show, a complete podium. I’ll go first, Thomas, Terpstra, Rowe (that’s actually one of Nick’s picks, so I’m cheating). There’s some rain in the forecast for Roubaix tomorrow, which could wet the cobbles just enough to deliver total carnage on Sunday, when it should be sunny and cool.
Image: Before the Start: Seamus Elliott, Jean Stablinski and Jacques Anquetil/National Archive – The Hague