It's not all about Tom Boonen (Quick-Step Floors) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe). The retiring Belgian and the world champion have dominated the prognostics ahead of Paris-Roubaix, but the Queen of the Classics throws up surprises like few other races. Just ask last year's winner Mat Hayman. But who are the outsiders who might upset Quick-Step, Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) et al on Sunday?
Vandenbergh often rode Paris-Roubaix in support of his leaders in the Quick-Step team. In 2013, he came very close on a top result but crashed out of the lead group on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. For 2017, the 32-year-old Belgian is in a new situation as leader of AG2R. After receiving a big knock on his head in a crash at E3 Harelbeke the giant Belgian rider had a minor concussion and whiplash. Unsurprisingly, his results haven't been splendid so far. Co-team-leader Oliver Naesen impressed on Flemish roads, where he was able to keep up with Van Avermaet and Sagan. Naesen himself pointed to Vandenbergh though for Paris-Roubaix. “Stijn dropped everybody on the cobbles during our team recon. He dreams of entering the velodrome with Boonen," Naesen said. Nevertheless, Naesen rates himself a level above his teammate when naming favourites on Sporza.
Boom is usually a force to be reckoned with in Paris-Roubaix. The 31-year-old Dutchman has a cyclo-cross background and all the physical characteristics to ride fast on the cobbles. A fourth and sixth place are his best results in Roubaix, and he also won the Tour de France stage at the Arenberg Forest in 2014. He had high ambitions for the 2017 season, switching back from the Astana team after a two-year stint where he felt a lack of support. Boom is the clear team leader for the classics and has stated he finally wanted to win a classic. His results in the northern classics have been far below par so far. On Wednesday, Boom indicated to Cyclingnews that his build-up to the season had been troublesome, though he was improving – but running out of time to be on top form for Paris-Roubaix.
Norwegian fans will be hoping for a good performance from their top riders Boasson Hagen and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Boasson Hagen should be reaching his best years at the age of 29. Last year, he impressed with a fifth place on the velodrome in Roubaix during his fourth participation. So far this season, he has been flying below the radar and the pressure must be mounting on the team leader for the classics. Boasson Hagen claims he's as good as in 2016 but peaking towards this 'Holy Week'. If his engine finally kicks off, he'll be up there on Sunday. Kristoff starts his eighth Paris-Roubaix, with two top-10 results in the bag.
A member of the Quick-Step team since the start of his career, Van Keirsbulck was forced to look out for another team in the 2017 season. The 26 year-old grandson of 1963 world champion Benoni Beheyt won the 2009 junior edition of Paris-Roubaix. He's been regarded as the new Tom Boonen for a while, having the same physical appearance on the bike. Still, his performances didn't live up to those expectations. Regretting the lack of liberty at Quick-Step, Van Keirsbulck finally starts Paris-Roubaix as a team leader. Early March, Van Keirsbulck won the GP Le Samyn, a mini Paris-Roubaix. "Riding the cobbles suits me very well. Le Samyn, isn't to be compared with Paris-Roubaix as there's 50 kilometres less and only 12 kilometres of decent pavé. The Arenberg Forest seems like it had passed through a war. I'd be happy with a top-20 result but hopefully I'm closer than that," Van Keirsbulck told Belga.
Apart from Arnaud Démare (FDJ), France hasn't got too many riders who can be expected near the front. Direct Energie is led by Sylvain Chavanel, ninth in Flanders, and Adrien Petit. The veteran Chavanel has performed well in Flanders over the years but never threatened victory in Roubaix. Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) will start only his second-ever Paris-Roubaix, not finishing his debut in 2012. He crashed during the recon on Thursday. Perhaps Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) can surprise again, like he did in the Tour of Flanders, where he anticipated the big moves.
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