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Roundtable: How many classics can Mathieu van der Poel win this year?

Will van der Poel continue to crush the field? And will SD Worx dominate the spring? We consider all things classics.

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The “opening weekend” and Strade Bianche have raised the curtain on the classics in spectacular style, and the major monuments are on the very near horizon.

So will Mathieu van der Poel continue to crush the field? Will SD Worx win the lot? And who gets our backing for victories at the men’s and women’s Paris-Roubaix?

Fred Dreier, Andrew Hood, and Jim Cotton consider all-things classics:

What will Mathieu van der Poel’s 2021 spring classics scorecard end up looking like?

Will van der Poel win them all this season? Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Fred: I think van der Poel wins Milano-Sanremo and then E3 BinckBank Classic. He’s close but does not win Gent-Wevelgem, and then he repeats at the Tour of Flanders. I don’t see him winning Paris-Roubaix in his debut, but I do see him being fit a week later for the Amstel Gold Race circuit race. So, by the end of the classics I see him having won Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo, E3, Flanders, and Amstel — it’s a historic haul for a historically versatile rider.

Jim: Bah, who knows?! He’s odds-on favorite for any race he starts right now, but I think it will become increasingly difficult for him to win races as the season goes on. Wout van Aert is still returning to road mode. Mads Pedersen is looking better than ever and has a strong team around him. And when we get to those Flandrien classics, Deceuninck-Quick-Step will be in their back yard, and it’s in those most gritty of northern races where the likes of Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert, and Davide Ballerini do best. I’m not saying “MvdP” doesn’t win again, but the win-rate may turn down a notch.

Andrew: He could win them all, or he could win none. That’s a pretty lame answer, but if I knew what the future would hold, I would have bought Bitcoin in 2015. What’s sure is that “Van der Cool” and his Swiss Army knife skillset means that he could win every race on the spring classics calendar from here to Liège-Bastogne-Liège. That’s how versatile he is. What’s also true is that his rivals, whom I believe have been tapering into form to hit their respective peaks in April, will be putting up much more of a fight. Trek-Segafredo, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, and Ag2r-Citroën pack a mighty collective punch, and let’s not forget Wout van Aert. I see him picking up one or two more wins, so let’s say Harelbeke and a Flanders repeat.

Which team or rider finally ends the SD Worx streak at the classics, and at what race?

Kirsten Wild could unlock SD Worx in a sprint finish. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Andrew: The one-rider wrecking crew otherwise known as “The AVV.” Annemiek van Vleuten is a force unto herself, and she won’t be content to ride second fiddle to her longtime rivals at SD Worx. Van Vleuten also has her eye on prizes coming later in the season, including Paris-Roubaix and the Olympic Games. I think the party ends at the Ronde, with van Vleuten coming up aces.

Fred: As deep as that team is, I think they are vulnerable in sprint races, as their two best sprinters, Amy Pieters and Jolien D’Hoore, are perhaps a few watts shy of the sport’s top sprinters. I see the streak ending at Brugge-De Panne, and I think it will come at the hands of Kirsten Wild.

Jim: I think it could be the dark-horse disruptors of FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope at Trofeo Alfredo Binda later this month. They’ve got wily attackers like Évita Muzic and  Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig who both could go well on that tough hilly course. Uttrup Ludwig has long been close to a big win, and she’s got the skillset to do it. Plus we know she’ll give an ace interview afterward.

Who becomes the first woman to win Paris-Roubaix?

Lucinda Brand could be in contention at Roubaix after her dominant cyclocross campaign. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

Fred: I see Anna van der Breggen as the clear favorite at this point. She’s perhaps not as powerful on the flats as some of the others, but her racing intellect and team strength place her atop the list of favorites. And with this being her final year, I am willing to bet that winning the first women’s Paris-Roubaix would be an enormous goal of hers.

Jim: Lucinda Brand. She’s only just started her road season after winning the ‘cross worlds and so was a bit rusty at Strade Bianche. But Brand has a huge motor and the handling skills to make short work of the pavé. On top of that, her co-leaders Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini are building their seasons around the monuments, so should be top form to help Brand on the way to the velodrome.

Andrew: I have to agree with Fred. The reigning world champion has all the qualities to go deep into Roubaix. It’s going to be a brutal race, where experience, technique, and brute strength will deliver victory. Van der Breggen holds all those cards and will be backed by the peloton’s best team right now. Advantage: AvdB.

Who wins the men’s Paris-Roubaix this year?

Jim: Peter Sagan. I know it’s unlikely, but let’s face it, the world is a better place when Sags wins races.

Andrew: I like Paris-Roubaix in that it occasionally delivers the outlier/veteran victory. Think Mat Hayman or Johan Van Summeren. Having said that, this year’s “dark horse” field is pretty thin. The one rider who fits that mold is Heinrich Haussler, who’s already popped some good results this spring thanks to his winter cyclocross schedule. The obvious pick: Wout van Aert. He’s got the motor, the skills, and the ambition. Barring a puncture or untimely crash, it’s going to be a WOWt kind of Sunday.

Fred: Wout van Aert.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7t-hiilx1I