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A strong possibility of rain this weekend will leave greasy cobbles and slimy wet leaves for the men’s peloton to contend with in their first trip to the pavé in two-and-a-half years Sunday.
The prospect of a wet Roubaix is something typically cheered by fans and feared by racers. Not so for Sagan, who won the cobblestone trophy in 2018.
“No, I’m not going to be afraid if it’s wet, but I do know that it will be special,” Sagan told Belga about Sunday’s “Hell of the North.”
Like the rest of the modern peloton, Sagan has never raced a rainy Paris-Roubaix. However, the memory of the 2014 Tour de France stage that saw racers skid and slide through nine sectors of sloppy cobbles lives strong for Sagan, who came out of the day fourth behind victor Lars Boom.
“I’m not going to be afraid if it’s wet, but I do know that it will be special,” he said. “But you can’t compare those few lanes in a Roubaix stage in the Tour with the real Roubaix. That is a battle of attrition and rain makes it even more difficult. I know that from 2014.”
A lot has changed since that day at the Tour. Sagan was in his pomp, Chris Froome – who crashed out of the stage before the cobbles had even started – was on the rise, and Fabian Cancellara was still racing. The likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel were just two kids racing in the mud.
Heading into this year’s unprecedented autumnal Roubaix, Sagan is in the twilight of his years and van Aert, van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe are in charge. After finishing an anonymous 26th in last weekend’s worlds and “without the legs to win,” Sagan may see rain tipping things his way this weekend.
Greasy stones will favor the canniest of racers and the best of bike handlers. Sagan’s wheelie-pulling, bunny-hopping, gravity-defying trickery could give him an extra edge in a race favoring those with sharp skills and good fortune.
“I actually have a love-hate relationship with that race,” he said.
“If you are lucky then Roubaix is a great race, but if you are unlucky Roubaix can be a very long and terrible race. Look at the honors list: there are many different winners. Either they win by luck, or they have ‘top legs’ that day. A thousand things can happen along the way.
“Even if you are not the best in Roubaix, you can still win there. You see that in history too.”
Sagan will be hoping that he’s the next unlikely winner to be etched into the record books this weekend.