Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix race director Christian Prudhomme says that he thinks that there are up to a dozen riders who have the ability to win Roubaix on Sunday, underlining that this weekend's 'Hell of the North' could be the most open race for some years.
"There are a lot of favourites this year, and probably a dozen of riders who can actually win the race," Prudhomme told reporters on Saturday.
"Among them is the Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff [UAE Team Emirates], who's a former winner of Milan-San Remo, and has shown great form this year.
"There's also title defender Peter Sagan [Bora-Hansgrohe], Greg Van Avermaet [CCC] and also Oliver Naesen [AG2R], who's great in the wind and on the pavé," he said.
"Then you also have those who've come from a cyclo-cross background, and among them, most notably, is Wout van Aert [Jumbo-Visma], who is a three-time cyclo-cross world champion, and also Zdenek Stybar from the Deceuninck-QuickStep team, who haven't been at their best of late, but will still be strong, as they also have Philippe Gilbert and Belgian road race champion Yves Lampaert.
"There are also some French riders who have a good chance," Prudhomme continued. "Arnaud Démare [Groupama-FDJ] finished sixth two years ago, which was no fluke. Adrien Petit [Total Direct Energie] has also twice finished in the top10, and that's not just luck either.
"They have to try to get into a breakaway group, which could then go all the way, as happened with Stuart O'Grady's victory in 2007. And last year, Peter Sagan had to fight all the way to the finish line with Silvan Dillier [AG2R], who had been in the breakaway."
Prudhomme also talked about the Roubaix course, which is decided upon by his ASO colleague Thierry Gouvenou, who also designs the route for the Tour de France each year.
Changes have included adding mortar in between the cobbles on the famous stretch through the Trouée d'Arenberg, as well as using a new section of cobbles after the Troisvilles sector.
"The renovation of some of the pavé sectors was necessary to guarantee the safety of the riders in case of rain," Prudhomme explained. "There are about 100km of pavé available for Thierry to use in the race, and we always change something.
"This year, we tweaked the first part of the pavé after Troisvilles, which will be selective. In the 13km after hitting that pavé sector in Troisvilles, there's another 10km of cobbles, and that's going to be very important."
The race's second sector of cobbles, between Briastre and Viesly, has been named after Veranda's Willems-Crelan rider Michael Goolaerts, who died during last year's race after suffering a heart attack.
"We're all thinking about Michael," said Prudhomme, "and paid our tributes together with Thierry Gouvenou and the mayor of Briastre on Monday at the sector where he fell last year."
The sector that was called the Chemin de Saint-Quentin will now simply be called the Secteur Michael Goolaerts, while the Belgian's race number from last year – number 84 – will not be used.
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