AFP picks out 10 riders to keep an eye on in Sunday’s 253km Cobbled Classic Paris-Roubaix race:
ALEXANDER KRISTOFF (NOR) Katusha
Quite simply the man of the moment, the 27-year-old is the most in-form rider. His wins at the Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs and Three Days of De Panne, all in the last two weeks, as well as a second place to John Degenkolb last month at Milan-San Remo, means no-one has matched his Spring form.
NIKI TERPSTRA (NED) Etixx-Quick-Step
The reigning champion has also shown good recent form having finished second in Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. Paris-Roubaix is ideal for his powerful riding and last year he showed great tactical acumen to break free from a 12-man group to win.
BRADLEY WIGGINS (GBR) Sky
One of the greatest all-round bike riders in history. When Wiggins focuses his mind on a goal he usually achieves it. A Grand Tour winner, time-trial world and Olympic champion, track gold medallist at world and Olympic level and now reinventing himself into a cobbled classic contender, Wiggins has the ability to win this.
JOHN DEGENKOLB (GER) Giant-Alpecin
Finished second last year and won Milan-San Remo last month. If he arrives at the Velodrome in Roubaix, the only man who might be able to beat him in a sprint is Kristoff. He has the strength to stay with the best on the cobbles but perhaps lacks a foil in the run-in.
SEP VANMARCKE (BEL) Lotto NL-Jumbo
Really disappointed with his showing in Flanders after being dropped before the climb where Terpstra and Kristoff made their winning break, he will feel he has something to prove on Sunday. He is a consistent performer normally and was fourth last year having finished third at Flanders in 2014. But despite numerous top five finishes in cobbled races, his only victory was at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012.
GREG VAN AVERMAET (BEL) BMC
Another consistent performer who rarely turns a high finish into a victory, but Van Avermaet is always willing to go on the attack. It was he who animated Flanders last year, attacking the field and taking Stijn Vandenbergh with him before finishing second. A good bet for the podium, if not necessarily the win.
ZDENEK STYBAR (CZE) Etixx-Quick Step
Fifth last year and sixth the year before, his cyclo-cross background helps him deal easily with cobbles. He made the mistake of marking Geraint Thomas in Flanders, having finished second to the Welshman at E3 Harelbeke, and missed the two decisive attacks. But with many eyes on his team-mate Terpstra, he could capitalise on that the way the Dutchman did the year before when Tom Boonen was team leader.
PETER SAGAN (SVK) Tinkoff-Saxo
Few can argue that Sagan is one of the most talented bike riders in the peloton but he has flattered to deceive more often than not these last couple of years. Considered two years ago as a stonewall certainty to win a Monument race sooner rather than later, he has so far proved unable to make the right move at the right time and his missed opportunities are starting to pile up.
JOHAN VAN SUMMEREN (BEL)
Alongside Terpstra, Vansummeren is the only previous winner in the field this year. Although at 34 his best years may be behind him, in such a wide-open field his experience gives him a chance. If he has the legs to stay with the best, then he could have a trick up his sleeve when the key moment arrives.
GERAINT THOMAS (GBR) Sky
He was believed by many to be the man to beat ahead of Flanders but simply didn’t pick the right moment to attack and was then marked out of contention. He admitted he didn’t have the legs to win but having claimed E3 Harelbeke and finished third at Gent-Wevelgem, he has proved already this spring that he is one of the strongest men in the peloton.
– Agence France-Presse