BREAKDOWN: 3 Things To Watch For On The Roubaix Cobbles

This Sunday sees the pro peloton hit the cobbles of the ‘Hell of the North’ Paris-Roubaix Monument. Spencer Martin gives us his ‘Breakdown’ ahead of the battle of the pavé.

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

A daunting gauntlet of ancient cobbled sectors

The normal race schedule might have been altered to make room for a pesky French election, but this weekend means that Paris-Roubaix, the one-day Monument over the treacherous cobblestones (pavé) of Northern France and one of the oldest races on the calendar, will finally be here this coming Sunday. Due to its unique and absurdly difficult route over a daunting gauntlet of ancient cobbled sectors, it is a must-watch.

2021 Paris-Roubaix highlights

Looking at Recent Trends

  • The presence of the Napoleonic cobbled roads has meant that in the past, the race was one for the big, burly cobbled specialists. But, in recent years, the specialist trend has faded at Roubaix, and instead, simply favors an incredibly strong rider.
  • Even though it features almost no hills, is sure to strip down the peloton and a small group to contest the win on the boards of the Roubaix velodrome. The race is so selective that there hasn’t been a group of 10 or more riders contesting the win since 1967.
  • Predicting Paris-Roubaix is always difficult. While the strongest rider almost always wins Flanders, Roubaix has the unique ability to serve up wildcard winners like Johan Vansummeren in 2011 and Matt Hayman in 2016. While this can make predictions difficult, there is a common thread through most Roubaix winners.
  • Since 2000, 15 editions of Roubaix, or 71%, have been won by a rider over 6-feet tall, with only 3 winners (14%) under 5 feet 11 inches. Compare this to the Tour of Flanders, which, in the same timeframe, has seen 56% of the editions won by riders over 6-feet tall, with 31% of those won by riders under 5”11.
  • Two potential dynamics at play here at play here is that aerodynamics matter less at Roubaix due to the rough roads and lower speeds, which means taller riders who are normally adversely affected in other races, finally get a chance to go pedal-stroke-for-pedal-stroke with smaller, more aerodynamic riders. Additionally, it could also be the case that taller riders have an eye-line advantage due to being able to peer over the group, and seeing where you are riding on the rough cobblestones is incredibly important.

Mathew Hayman was 38 years-old when he won Paris-Roubaix in 2016

This is an Old’s Man Race

  • An interesting and illuminating piece of data is the average age of recent winners. Since 2015, is around 31.6 years old. This means we can guess the winner will be taller, heavier, and older than your average WorldTour race winner.

Niki Terpstra 2014 – The last solo Roubaix win

Rare Solo Winners

  • A recent oddity at Roubaix is the lack of recent solo winners. After 10 solo victories between the years 2000-2012, there has only been a single solo win since (Niki Terpstra, 2014).
  • This means that to win the event in recent years, a rider has to be strong enough to power through insanely difficult sectors of cobblestones in the lead group, tactically aware enough to not miss the winning move on the ensuing pavement sections, and quick enough to win a sprint finish on the velodrome.

Top favorite – Mathieu van der Poel

BTP Favorites In Order of Likelihood to Win:
Mathieu van der Poel

  • While there is some ambiguity around his current form, Van der Poel has looked better than any other one-day rider over the last few weeks and has the perfect skillset and body type for the race. He lacks experience here, but in his one career start (2021) he finished in 3rd place.

Will Sunday be hell for Kasper Asgreen

Kasper Asgreen

  • The Dane Has had a difficult Spring so far as evidenced by his 23rd place at Flanders. But his 6th at Amstel Gold signals he is coming around, and with such an odd and unprecedented leadup to the race, his slow Spring could actually help him.

Mads Pedersen – On flying form

Mads Pedersen

  • In theory, the strong and quick Pedersen is the perfect pick. He is on flying form, can power over the cobbles and has the ability to win out of a reduced sprint, but when we inspect his past performances here, cracks in his favorite status start to show. Oddly, he has never finished higher than 51st place (2020).

Dylan van Baarle – Considered one of the best one-day riders on the planet

Dylan van Baarle

  • The Ineos rider is flying under the radar but he has finished 2nd place in two recent big one-day races, the 2021 World Championships and 2022 Flanders, and at this point needs to be considered one of the best one-day riders on the planet. Also, his strong Ineos team proved at Amstel that they have the teamwork and firepower to propel a rider to a major win over more talented, but outnumbered, riders. Also, it won’t hurt having the one-man power station, Filippo Ganna, in his corner.

No need for a dropped post in Roubaix

Matej Mohorič

  • A few weeks ago, I would have picked the Milano-Sanremo winner as a top favorite for success, but the lanky Slovenian’s supernova March form seems to be fading. And the delayed timeline means that it will be even harder for the Sanremo winner to complete the near impossible Sanremo/Roubaix double.

Stefan Küng would have to win solo

Stefan Küng

  • The big Swiss time trialist has been building a budding Classics career on the side and represents an almost ideal slightly unexpected Roubaix winner. The only major issue is that Küng’s lack of sprint almost certainly means he needs to win solo, and there have been very few solo winners in the recent past.

Laporte – Has his Spring been too long?

Christophe Laporte

  • The former Cofidis rider has taken an undeniable step this season after joining Jumbo. Considering his recent form, which includes a top ten at Flanders and his +1400 odds, he presents a decent pick. But, my one concern with Laporte (and a good chunk of the other favorites) is his extremely long Spring, and the fact that he has appeared slightly less strong as the weeks have gone on (for example, we haven’t seen him replicate the same hulk strength he showed on stage 1 of Paris-Nice since then).

Stuyven has the skills

Jasper Stuyven

  • The 2021 Milano-Sanremo winner has had an up-and-down Spring, punctuated by a 4th place at Gent-Wevelgem. At no point has he displayed form that would inspire an abundance of confidence in his form and he hasn’t finished higher than 5th place here since 2018, so it is difficult to outright back him, but at the end of the day, Stuyven has the skills, build and engine to emerge victorious at Roubaix on Sunday.

Ganna has the power

Filippo Ganna

  • In many ways, Ganna checks all the same boxes as Küng, but with even more firepower. However, the same concern about his lack of sprint also applies, as well as a lack of proven ability to win major one-days and slightly ambiguous recent form.

What will Wout do in Roubaix?

Wout van Aert

  • The Belgian missed a few weeks of racing, including the Tour of Flanders, due to catching COVID, but it is looking like he will return for Roubaix. However, his Jumbo team is already saying that even if he starts, he will be working for other riders on his Jumbo team. This is likely right, but it is worth noting the betting market doesn’t believe this claim (and adding to this theory his team asking him to stop posting pre-race rides to Strava to keep the status of his form secret). I would normally scoff at the idea he could win one of the hardest races in the sport after missing vital lead-in events, but with Roubaix being both a strange race where anything can happen and moved from its normal point on the schedule, I would hesitate to outright dismiss a potential Van Aert win.
  • Something else to consider is if his disrupted Spring could help him, since the rest of the contenders will be running on fumes after the extra-long season. Having said all of this, his current price at +600 is absurdly high for a rider with so many question marks.

Paris-Roubaix for dummies

# See the ‘PEZ 2022 Paris-Roubaix Preview’ HERE and keep it PEZ for the ‘Race Report’ on Sunday and all the Roubaix news in EUROTRASH Monday. #

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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