Cobblestone climax

April 4 th 2018 - 15:41

Quick-Step Floors is going into the 116th edition of Paris–Roubaix with several favourites to win the race and extend their domination of the Belgian classics and semi-classics. Philippe Gilbert's return to the race is probably his biggest challenge of the season. World champion Peter Sagan, defending champion Greg Van Avermaet and French champion Arnaud Démare will also strive to end the first part of the season on a high note.

It is hard to believe that it is already over! The northern classics campaign is about to end with a bang. Although the specialists have already been tackling the cobblestones of Belgium and northern France for several weeks, Paris–Roubaix remains the ultimate challenge. The stars will be on the hunt for an opportunity to settle the score and end this thrilling campaign on a high note. Quick-Step, which has already won all the races bar Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne–Brussels–Kuurne and Gent–Wevelgem, could continue to ride the wave. Sunday could see them rack up another victory courtesy of any of its four aces: former winner Niki Terpstra, who crushed the opposition in the Tour of Flanders; Yves Lampaert, who played his cards masterfully in Dwars Door Vlaanderen; Zdenek Štybar, who finished second last year and has always been in the mix in the last few years; and, of course, Philippe Gilbert, who could be about to take his career to a whole new level. The Walloon has only ridden the Queen of Classics once (52nd in 2007), but he knows how it works and is extremely good reading the race. Winning would make him one of only eight riders to win four different cycling Monuments, alongside Hennie Kuiper, Germain Derycke, Louison Bobet and Alfred de Bruyne, as well as Rik van Looy, Roger De Vlaeminck and Eddy Merckx, who won them all.

Third in the Tour of Flanders after covering for teammate Terpstra, "Phil Gil" makes no secret about his ambitions. However, many riders are eager to seize the moment and put an end to the Quick-Step domination. Peter Sagan has yet to add the prestigious cobblestone to his collection, but he will need a monster performance to leave his many rivals in the dust. Defending champion Greg Van Avermaet, who has had a lacklustre Belgian campaign so far, may get his mojo back on the Carrefour de l'Arbre, but Alexander Kristoff and Sep Vanmarcke have similar plans. On another front, sprinters in good shape such as Arnaud Démare and Edvald Boasson Hagen will be eyeing a sprint in the Velodrome, as will Dylan Groenewegen and Marcel Kittel despite their scarce experience on the cobblestones. Finally, the usual twists of fate could play into the hands of the numerous outsiders, including Geraint Thomas, Oliver Naesen, Tony Martin and young Wout Van Aert (ninth in the Ronde) and Mads Pedersen (second behind Terpstra).

25 teams, main contenders

South Africa
Team Dimension Data: Boasson Hagen (NOR) and Vermote (BEL)
Bora-Hansgrohe: Sagan (SVK), Burghardt (GER) and Oss (ITA)
Team Sunweb: E. Theuns (BEL) and Teunissen (GER)
Mitchelton–Scott: Hayman, Durbridge (AUS) and Trentin (ITA)
Bahrain-Merida: Haussler (AUS) and Božič (SLO)
Quick-Step Floors: Gilbert, Lampaert (BEL), Štybar (CZE) and Terpstra (NED)
Lotto–Soudal: Bak (DEN), Debusschere and Keukeleire (BEL)
Vérandas Willems – Crelan: Van Aert and Devolder (BEL)
WB Aqua Protect Veranclassic: Dehaes (Bel) and Spengler (SUI)
United Arab Emirates
UAE Team Emirates: Kristoff, Byström (NOR) and Marcato (ITA)
United States
BMC Racing Team: Van Avermaet, Roelandts (BEL) and Küng (LUX)
EF Education First–Drapac: Vanmarcke (BEL), Langeveld (NED) and Phinney (USA)
Trek–Segafredo: Degenkolb (GER), Stuyven (BEL) and Pedersen (DEN)
Movistar Team: Soler (ESP) and Bennati (ITA)
Ag2r-La Mondiale: Naesen, Vandenbergh (BEL) and Gallopin (FRA)
Cofidis: Laporte, Hofstetter and Lemoine (FRA)
Direct Énergie: Chavanel, Petit and Gaudin (FRA)
Groupama-FDJ: Démare, Le Gac (FRA) and Guarnieri (ITA)
Delko Marseille Provence KTM: Martinez (FRA) and Šiškevičius (LIT)
Fortuneo-Samsic: Périchon and Jarrier (FRA)
Vital Concept Cycling Club: Ermenault (FRA) and De Backer (BEL)
United Kingdom
Team Sky: Thomas, Rowe (GBR), Moscon (ITA) and Van Baarle (NED)
Astana Pro Team: De Vreese (BEL) and Nielsen (DEN)
Team LottoNL–Jumbo: Groenewegen (NED) and Wynants (BEL)
Team Katusha Alpecin: Martin, Kittel (GER) and Haller (AUT)

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