I live in Glossop and it's got a few things in common with Roubaix, mainly the fact that it's always quite likely to piss it down. Apparently Roubaix is the 13th wettest city in France. Anyone who's been to Roubaix will agree that the place is already grim enough, it's not fair for weather to add to it's misery. Leave it alone weather, stop being so mean.
I've been in Roubaix for the last couple of editions of Paris-Roubaix. If you've never done it then I thoroughly recommend it. Get to the velodrome early enough and you can bag a seat right on the finish line. It's completely free, you can watch the whole race on the big screen, and a Belgian will almost definitely give you one of his cans. The time difference means the train back to London gets in half an hour after you leave Lille, too. Last year I met the guys from This Is Cambridge and copped myself a free cap. Roubaix is awesome.
I've not done any research but a lot of proper cycling journalists and publications have been talking about it being the first truly wet edition of Paris-Roubaix since the early 2000s. But isn't Roubaix one of the wettest places in France? Why haven't they had a wet race in over a decade? What kind of witchcraft is this? They've kind of had a wet edition in the last decade, the one that was actually in the Tour De France in 2014. That year it properly hammered it down and everyone loved it. Twitter was excited about it well before the stage even started, all it took was an image of a cobble emerging from a puddle, like that iceberg that killed Leonardo DiCaprio.
On that wet day the stage was won by Lars Boom, with Vincenzo Nibali coming in second. Factors like team orders played a big part in the way the stage played out, but the rain definitely changed the list of potential contenders for the win. So if it does rain in Roubaix on Sunday, who can we expect to be up there, covered in mud, battling for the cobble trophy in the Roubaix Velodrome? Cancellara and Sagan are the obvious picks for the race, and I don't think rain changes that too much. You saw the way they handled their bikes in the finale of Milano-Sanremo, so I'd expect them still to be up there, unless the rain causes a freak crash or an untimely puncture. Both of which are more likely if it's coming down in stair rods.
What's interesting is that the rain will bring a lot more outsiders into play and potentially stack the deck in their favour. Here are my picks for a wet Paris-Roubaix.
I've just told you all you need to know about this lad. He won the mini Paris-Roubaix stage, in the rain, in the 2014 Tour De France. He's also a brilliant Cyclocross rider who might be headed back to that discipline after this season. Would a Roubaix win tempt him to come back for more classics? or would it be a good way to say goodbye? Either way he's riding well and he's got a solid team backing him, with the likes of Lieuwe Westre and Alexey Lutsenko. Those two don't seem to like to help each other but hopefully they won't mind helping Lars.
If there's anyone who is more looking forward to a wet Paris-Roubaix than me, then it's Yogi. He's a true hardman of the Peloton who often goes way beyond what he should be capable of. Just look at his work driving Team Sky up the early part of climbs, or going on the attack over the Cipresse at Milano-Sanremo. The harder and wetter they make Roubaix, the more likely Stannard is to be the first man over the line. Not renowned for being the smartest rider in the bunch, the combination of him being well hard, and being oblivious to the effect the rain may have on the cobbles could be a winning formula.
He absolutely looks like a comic book character who's nicked a child's bike in some sort of getaway attempt. But an ugly race calls for ugly measures, and possibly an ugly riding style. He's had some promising Roubaix performances, he was really in the mix in 2013, the year that Cancellara and Vanmarcke were trackstanding in the Velodrome. He finished 5th in the end but he hasn't hit those heights since. He finished 5th in Four Days of Dunkirk last year so he's got hardman credentials and Roubaix is the race he covets most of all.
He's right up there with Sep Vanmarcke in my list of riders who I would love to see win the hell of the north. The year that Cancellara and Vanmarcke were the first two into the velodrome, there was another rider who was cruelly denied the chance to join them. Stybar was taken out by an errant camera that was held in the hands of an idiot. He's got CX credentials like Lars Boom and so you'd think he'd have no trouble with some wet cobbles. A lot will depend on how he dovetails with the rest of his Etixx-Quickstep team. This one could be Boonen's last Paris-Roubaix and it's the spring classic that most suits his ageing characteristics. Will he be likely to give Stybar any help or go all out for personal glory?
Other names to conjure with are the likes of Niki Terpstra, but he's won it before so I don't think I really need to write about him. A rider who was on Terpstra's tail in the wettest (semi) classic of this season, Le Samyn, was Scott Thwaites. I think Roubaix is probably far too long for him just now, but the way he rode in those toughest of conditions could see him there for the finale.