The world’s best classics riders will take on the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix on Sunday. So who is the top favorite for “The Hell of the North?” Team tactics, endurance, power, and — above all — luck will all be keys to success in this 257-kilometer run across the rough cobblestone roads of northern France.
10. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)
The Norwegian national champion hasn’t really shown his cards in the classics so far this spring. He was a modest 22nd in Tour of Flanders last Sunday, but his form seems decent because he was seventh in the Tirreno-Adriatico’s final time trial. His Dimension Data team won’t be the strongest at Roubaix, and his form is unproven, but the 29-year-old has experience on the stones, notably a fifth-place result in 2016.
9. Mathew Hayman (Orica-Scott)
What were you doing 17 years ago, in the year 2000? Hayman was riding his first Paris-Roubaix, finishing 65th. It took him 15 tries at “The Hell of the North” to win the monument. We have to put the defending champion on our power rankings, but it seems unlikely that lightning will strike twice for the Australian. Plus, he may be riding Roubaix in the service of Luke Durbridge.
8. Ian Stannard (Team Sky)
Sky’s big British diesel will look to ride into the winning move again after finishing third in the sprint on the velodrome in 2016. Stannard should be one of Sky’s protected riders for Paris-Roubaix, although he has yet to earn any notable results in the classics. That said, he won the final stage at Australia’s Herald Sun Tour in February, so he should have some early season speed in his legs.
7. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r La Mondiale)
The latest darling of Belgium’s cycling faithful, Naesen looked to be in perfect position to challenge Greg Van Avermaet and Peter Sagan at Tour of Flanders, but a crash on the Oude Kwaremont ruined the day. However, he has a third-place result at E3 Harelbeke to his credit, and looks to be on the form of his life heading into the climax of the cobblestone season.
6. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin)
Kristoff has been quietly inching closer to a big win this spring, although he’s not a top favorite on the minds of most fans. He was fifth at Tour of Flanders and won a stage at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde. His best result in Roubaix was ninth in 2013, and he was 10th in 2015, when he seemed untouchable in the classics. It’s hard to say why the perfect day hasn’t materialized for him in the “Queen of the Classics,” but perhaps in 2017 the pieces will fall into place.
5. Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors)
The 32-year-old played his team’s numbers advantage to perfection in 2014 to win Paris-Roubaix. Quick-Step has a deep bench again for 2017, so that tactic wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility. By now, however, every rider in the peloton knows not to give Terpstra too much leash. He was third in Tour of Flanders and fourth in Gent-Wevelgem after a kerfuffle with Sagan. Should Quick-Step be riding for Terpstra instead of Tom Boonen this year? There is no way the Belgian team would, given Boonen’s imminent retirement, but the Dutchman is an excellent ace to have in the hole.
4. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo)
With a fifth at Gent-Wevelgem and a seventh at Tour of Flanders, it is safe to say that the old Degenkolb is back. The man who won Milano-Sanremo and Roubaix in 2015 seems to be a legitimate threat on Sunday. His team should be modest yet strong, with Jasper Stuyven serving as one notable player who could take the pressure off Degenkolb when early attacks begin to fly. Not to be underestimated in the sprint, the German could be lethal on the Roubaix velodrome if the front group stays intact with warm, dry weather in the forecast.
3. Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
It’s been five years since a Belgian won “The Hell of the North.” Can Van Avermaet break the drought that goes back to Boonen’s 2012 victory? The 31-year-old has been imperious in the classics, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, and sprinting to a disappointing (for him) second at Ronde van Vlaanderen. Van Avermaet’s outings at Roubaix have been promising — he was third in 2015 and fourth in 2013. But the “Golden Greg” of 2017 on a different level compared to previous vintages. The top form he has this spring will make all the difference after 257km of cobblestones.
2. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe)
It might be a little risky to put the two-time world champion so high on this ranking because Sagan has been a bit of a mystery man in the last few weeks of classic races. He has been stymied by an odd series of setbacks: At E3 Harelbeke, he missed a split and was tangled in a crash; in Gent-Wevelgem, he had the aforementioned tiff with Terpstra and lost a chance at sprinting for a win; and in De Ronde, well we all know by now what happened in last week’s Tour of Flanders. A poorly placed jacket on the Oude Kwaremont’s barriers hooked Sagan’s bars and he tumbled. But in each of those three races, Sagan looked fit, fast, and confident. The story of Sagan’s spring so far has been one of “what ifs?” Paris-Roubaix, a race where he finished sixth in 2014, may be his chance to silence the loose talk.
1. Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors)
This year is our final chance to put Boonen on a Paris-Roubaix power rankings list, so we put him at the top. Are we getting dangerously nostalgic? Perhaps, but Boonen isn’t starting Roubaix to kiss babies and sign autographs at the Compiègne start. The 36-year-old still hungers for a record fifth cobblestone trophy. He was a bike-throw away from that objective in 2016, but Hayman had a different idea. Boonen was eighth in E3 and sixth in Gent-Wevelgem, so his form seems sufficient. No one can question the four-time winner’s expertise on the pavé. His Quick-Step team appears to be the strongest of this classics season, with wins at Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, Tour of Flanders, and Scheldeprijs. But Roubaix is notorious for striking down top favorites with bad luck — a crash or a flat at the wrong moment. Perhaps we should have left Boonen off the list?