Road

Foreboding Roubaix forecast sows uncertainty

We haven't seen a wet Paris-Roubaix since 2002, which has the peloton wondering how things will shake out if it's muddy on Sunday.

GENT, Belgium (VN) — Cyclists are looking to the dark clouds circling the above the fields of northern France, wondering what mother nature has in store for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix.

Forecasts show a likelihood of rain Saturday on the eve of the monument and a chance again on race day. If rain falls on the cobbled farm roads, it would drastically alter the 257.5-kilometer French classic.

“What does yours show? My weather app shows rain on Sunday. I hope it’s wrong!” American Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data) said to VeloNews Wednesday in Schoten, near Antwerp. He had just finished helping teammate Mark Cavendish — in the rain — to second place in the Scheldeprijs.

“We are all going to see what a rainy Roubaix looks like. I don’t think anyone in the current peloton has done a wet Roubaix before.”

Several Paris-Roubaix cyclists sampled the taste of wet cobblestones in the 2014 Tour de France. Stage 5 covered several sectors, racing to Arenberg, where classics strong-man Lars Boom won and his then-teammate on Astana, Vincenzo Nibali, laid the groundwork for his overall title.

The last Paris-Roubaix mud-fest happened 14 years ago on April 14, 2002. George Hincapie fell in the ditch and opened the door for his U.S. Postal Service teammate Tom Boonen, then relatively unknown in his first Paris-Roubaix, to ride to third place behind winner Johan Museeuw. Boonen this year will be racing for a record fifth title.

“I’m not God, I don’t know what’s going to happen Sunday,” Welshman Luke Rowe said. “If it’s a wet one, it’ll be the same for everyone. You just got to crack on.” His Sky teammate Ian Stannard explained that he prefers wet and messy conditions. He said, “It suits my characteristics.”

Fans, many in shorts, gathered in Oudenaarde’s main square Sunday for Belgium’s Tour of Flanders. Cyclists enjoyed one of the few warm days in recent weeks with temperatures around 65 degrees.

The weather turned for the worse, however. A cold front moved in off the North Sea on Tuesday and brought with it strong winds and scattered showers. It prompted concern for Paris-Roubaix organizer ASO, which said that it might need to reroute around some cobble sectors if they remain muddy.

“Some sectors were a mess,” Trek-Segafredo general manager Luca Guercilena said after the team’s reconnaissance Tuesday. The good news, teams found dry conditions and cobbles when they visited to preview on Thursday, three days out.

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“Everyone is making a fuss about the weather, but we are still a few days away, so we need to see what happens,” added Rowe. He placed fifth in the Tour of Flanders Sunday.

The worst may blow through Friday, and for the sportive riders Saturday. If it remains messy and muddy Sunday, the race could split early and draw the big favorites out sooner than if it is dry and dusty. Rowe said that as early as the Troisvilles sector, the first of 27 and still with 160 kilometers to race, the race could be decided.

“Our bike and equipment will stay the same regardless,” Rowe said. The team tried Pinarello’s special Dogma K8-S frames Thursday with rear suspension.

“The main thing that changes is that you’ll need to enter the first section in the top three. It’s that critical. And after the first section, there’ll be a big split if it’s wet. It just makes it that much more important to stay in front.”