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The Know-All for Paris-Roubaix

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Apr 11, 2015 – Geraint Thomas said he was a marked man at last week’s Tour of Flanders but hopes the attention on Bradley Wiggins at Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix will help him. The Cobbled Classics season comes to an end with perhaps the most prestigious one-day race in the cycling calendar.

AFP/Kare Dehlie Thorstad

The Queen of the Classics covers 253km with almost 53km of cobbles over 27 different sectors, making Paris-Roubaix a war of attrition. And although Thomas is better suited to last week’s Flanders race, where he finished 14th having come eighth the year before, he believes the furore surrounding Wiggins’s last road race before returning to track cycling could work in his favor.

“He’s super motivated, he’s had this target since November, even before that, so yeah we’re looking forward to it,” said Thomas about his high-profile Sky teammate.

“This race suits the team as a whole more than Flanders, so we’ve a few cards to play. As long as there’s a Sky jersey on the top step of the podium, that’s all we really want.” Thomas says he’s got over the disappointment of last week when he went into the race as perhaps the biggest favorite following his E3 Harelbeke victory and third place at Gent-Wevelgem the week before.

“It was obviously disappointing but it was kind of strange being such a marked out man. I’m not really used to that, especially in a race as big as Flanders. “I didn’t quite have it on the day but the form doesn’t go away overnight, hopefully it can be a bit different tomorrow.

“In the race it won’t just be me they’ll be looking at, they’ll have to watch the lot of us (Sky riders) so I guess that’ll help for sure. “We’ve just got to be proactive and ride aggressive, and we’ll see what we can do.”

Aggressive riding will be the name of the game on Sunday and Belgian Greg Van Avermaet, third in Flanders last week, says he believes there will be a chance to attack from a long way out. “There are a lot of favourites to win tomorrow, we have a good team and we’ll attack the race,” said the BMC leader. “Roubaix is not the same as Flanders where the winner goes away not far from the finish. It’s very possible to stay ahead (over a greater distance).”

Last year’s winner Niki Terpstra has been in good form recently, finishing second at both Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. However, last year he could capitalise on Etixx-Quick Step teammate Tom Boonen being the favourite, whereas this year the joint record four-time winner is out injured. “It’s true in the past I’ve sometimes capitalised on the favourites being marked,” admitted the Dutchman.

“It’s more difficult when I have to carry the weight of expectation.” Terpstra said the two men to avoid reaching the Roubaix Velodrome alongside are Alexander Kristoff, the winner in Flanders last week, and Olympic and world timetrial champion Wiggins.

Kristoff, though, admits that Roubaix is not ideally suited to his abilities. “I hope to be fighting for victory but as I’ve said before, I’ve never felt so strong in Roubaix so I know it will be difficult,” he said. “I always felt stronger in Flanders with the cobbled climbs rather than the flat cobbles, so we will see.” Sprint-specialist Kristoff is one of two riders that almost everyone else will be hoping to drop before the finish at the Velodrome. The other is John Degenkolb, who beat Kristoff in a sprint finish at Milan-San Remo and finished second in Roubaix last year.

The Giant-Alpecin rider knows he will be the man to beat if it comes down to a sprint finish. “I’m really confident for tomorrow, this is a race I really like” said the German. “I’m not in a position where I need to attack and as long as I can follow the best guys, I don’t need to take action.”

AFP picks out 10 riders to keep an eye on in Sunday’s 253km Cobbled Classic Paris-Roubaix race:

ALEXANDER KRISTOFF (NOR)
Katusha Quite simply the man of the moment, the 27-year-old is the most in-form rider. His wins at the Tour of Flanders, Scheldeprijs and Three Days of De Panne, all in the last two weeks, as well as a second place to John Degenkolb last month at Milan-San Remo, means no-one has matched his Spring form.

NIKI TERPSTRA (NED)
Etixx-Quick-Step The reigning champion has also shown good recent form having finished second in Flanders and Gent-Wevelgem. Paris-Roubaix is ideal for his powerful riding and last year he showed great tactical acumen to break free from a 12-man group to win.

BRADLEY WIGGINS (GBR)
Sky One of the greatest all-round bike riders in history. When Wiggins focuses his mind on a goal he usually achieves it. A Grand Tour winner, time-trial world and Olympic champion, track gold medallist at world and Olympic level and now reinventing himself into a cobbled classic contender, Wiggins has the ability to win this.

JOHN DEGENKOLB (GER)
Giant-Alpecin Finished second last year and won Milan-San Remo last month. If he arrives at the Velodrome in Roubaix, the only man who might be able to beat him in a sprint is Kristoff. He has the strength to stay with the best on the cobbles but perhaps lacks a foil in the run-in.

SEP VANMARCKE (BEL)
Lotto NL-Jumbo Really disappointed with his showing in Flanders after being dropped before the climb where Terpstra and Kristoff made their winning break, he will feel he has something to prove on Sunday. He is a consistent performer normally and was fourth last year having finished third at Flanders in 2014. But despite numerous top five finishes in cobbled races, his only victory was at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2012.

GREG VAN AVERMAET (BEL)
BMC Another consistent performer who rarely turns a high finish into a victory, but Van Avermaet is always willing to go on the attack. It was he who animated Flanders last year, attacking the field and taking Stijn Vandenbergh with him before finishing second. A good bet for the podium, if not necessarily the win.

ZDENEK STYBAR (CZE)
Etixx-Quick Step Fifth last year and sixth the year before, his cyclo-cross background helps him deal easily with cobbles. He made the mistake of marking Geraint Thomas in Flanders, having finished second to the Welshman at E3 Harelbeke, and missed the two decisive attacks. But with many eyes on his team-mate Terpstra, he could capitalise on that the way the Dutchman did the year before when Tom Boonen was team leader.

PETER SAGAN (SVK)
Tinkoff-Saxo Few can argue that Sagan is one of the most talented bike riders in the peloton but he has flattered to deceive more often than not these last couple of years. Considered two years ago as a stonewall certainty to win a Monument race sooner rather than later, he has so far proved unable to make the right move at the right time and his missed opportunities are starting to pile up.

JOHAN VAN SUMMEREN (BEL)
Alongside Terpstra, Vansummeren is the only previous winner in the field this year. Although at 34 his best years may be behind him, in such a wide-open field his experience gives him a chance. If he has the legs to stay with the best, then he could have a trick up his sleeve when the key moment arrives.

GERAINT THOMAS (GBR)
Sky He was believed by many to be the man to beat ahead of Flanders but simply didn’t pick the right moment to attack and was then marked out of contention. He admitted he didn’t have the legs to win but having claimed E3 Harelbeke and finished third at Gent-Wevelgem, he has proved already this spring that he is one of the strongest men in the peloton.

Factfile on the Paris-Roubaix one-day Cobbled Classic race which takes place on Sunday:

First edition: 1896
Number of editions: 112
First winner: Josef Fischer (GER)
Current champion: Niki Terpstra (NED)
Most wins: Roger De Vlaeminck (BEL), Tom Boonen (BEL) 4
Length: 253km
Total cobbles: 52.7km
Number of cobbled sectors: 27
Departs: Compiegne
Arrives: Roubaix
Nicknames: Hell of the North, Queen of the Classics
Number of teams: 25
Number of riders: 200

Paris-Roubaix winners over the last 10 years:

2014: Niki Terpstra (NED)
2013: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2012: Tom Boonen (BEL)
2011: Johan Vansummeren (BEL)
2010: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2009: Tom Boonen (BEL)
2008: Tom Boonen (BEL)
2007: Stuart O’Grady (AUS)
2006: Fabian Cancellara (SUI)
2005: Tom Boonen (BEL)