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Mathieu van der Poel at Paris-Roubaix.

Paris-Roubaix preview: Where will Mathieu van der Poel make his move?

Everything you need to know about the route and the favorites ahead of the men's Paris-Roubaix.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 05.04.2024 More from Dane +

After weeks of long-range attacks, closely contested sprints, bounce-back performances, and dramatic crashes, the Cobbled Classics are nearing their conclusion. Paris-Roubaix, the “Queen of the Classics” and the “Hell of the North” is just around the corner, with the women’s race rolling out from Denain on Saturday and the men’s race starting on Sunday in Compiègne.

Defending champion Mathieu van der Poel is the heavy favorite again for the men’s race – but this is Paris-Roubaix, where anything can happen on the unforgiving cobbles.

As the biggest Classics showdown in France looms, we have everything you need to know ahead of the action. Abby Mickey has your preview of the women’s race, and you can read on right here for a preview of the route and the favorites for the men’s race at Paris-Roubaix …

The route

The legendary Roubaix cobbles need no introduction, so we’ll keep the focus on the key details and on the changes to the route that have been made for 2024.

Over the course of the 260 km journey from the Compiègne start to the finish in the Roubaix velodrome, the peloton must cover 29 cobbled sectors, which are rated in difficulty from one to five stars. Here is how the ASO classifies the sectors and the basic details on where they come.

As you can see, and as you’ll almost certainly remember, there are three five-star sectors. The first, the Trouée d’Arenberg, is the one whose approach has seen some tweaks over the past few days, as organizers have added chicanes on the run-in to the pavé in an attempt to slow the peloton down. We’ll see what happens on Sunday.

The Arenberg often marks a point in the race where the action starts to heat up; from there, it’s all three- or four-star sectors until the next five-star stretch at Mons-en-Pévèle. By the time the riders are through there, some 50 km will remain, and whatever “peloton” is left will almost assuredly be quite whittled down.

There is a brief respite in terms of cobbled difficulty after the Mons-en-Pévèle, and then things start to ramp up again before the final five-star sector, the Carrefour de l’Arbre. It’s the last great chance to solo clear of your rivals, because from there it’s only a little over 15 km to the finish and the remaining cobbles are much more manageable.

The race concludes, of course, in the Roubaix velodrome, where the 2024 champion will be crowned in front of a crowd of raucous fans.

Mathieu van der Poel in the Roubaix velodrome.
Mathieu van der Poel had time to savor his moment in front of the fans in the Roubaix velodrome in 2023.

The stars and the storylines

Here’s how we see the stars stacking up against each other … and the narratives that will frame the race …

The favorites

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: Mathieu van der Poel
⭐⭐⭐⭐: Jasper Philipsen, Mads Pedersen
⭐⭐⭐: Stefan Küng, Christophe Laporte, Alberto Bettiol
⭐⭐: Dylan van Baarle, John Degenkolb, Nils Politt, Laurence Pithie
⭐: Tim Merlier, Josh Tarling, Mikkel Bjerg, Jonathan Milan, Laurenz Rex, Luca Mozzato, Kasper Asgreen, Yves Lampaert, Ivan García Cortina, Tim Wellens, Jordi Meeus

Where will Van der Poel make his move?

Mathieu van der Poel will be plotting to surge off the front at some point in the race; the question is where? The Arenberg saw an early selection last year, and then Van der Poel shed more riders at Mons-en-Pévèle. Time will tell just where he will make his efforts this year, but based on what we’ve seen from him more and more recently, it seems like a foregone conclusion at this point that he will be aggressive from a long way out.

Van der Poel rode solo from the Carrefour to the finish line in 2023 but it’s tough to rely on last year as a gauge here because things seem to be changing rapidly in favor of ever longer attacks and because Wout van Aert’s late puncture confuses any analysis of that race. What’s more, Van Aert isn’t at Roubaix this year, so will anyone still be with Van der Poel by the time the riders hit the third and final five-star sector?

If this author were a rival DS, he would have his riders prepared to engage on Mons-en-Pévèle again; the race exploding this distance from the finish is the kind of thing that is starting to seem normal in 2024. The Carrefour, by contrast, almost seems too close to Roubaix to spur the winning move given recent trends. That said, there is only so much that Van der Poel’s rivals can do even if they’re fully prepared. Knowing is half the battle, of course, but the other half is keeping up with the world champion. That’s easier said than done.

In any case, now seems as good a time as any to make a key point about Paris-Roubaix. Van der Poel is the heavy favorite for a number of reasons, but this race is, perhaps more than any other on the calendar, prone to chaos. Crashes and punctures can and do affect anyone, even the world’s best. Van der Poel is the favorite, but there is far too much inherent uncertainty on the cobbles of Roubaix for anyone, even Van der Poel, to be a guaranteed winner. On the bright side for Alpecin-Deceuninck, he is not the only rider on his team with a real chance at winning …

Can Jasper Philipsen go one better than he did last year?

Philipsen’s status as the rider with the second shortest odds for Paris-Roubaix is a real testament to Alpecin-Deceuninck’s management, building a deep squad that fits right into the WorldTour scene after starting out as that Pro Conti team Mathieu van der Poel rides for just a few years ago. Philipsen is a legitimate contender in his own right, having proved last year that he can handle the Roubaix cobbles and having claimed a Monument win earlier this year.

The question now is how Alpecin plans to use him. The obvious answer is to ask him to follow moves and lie in wait as the team’s top option for a potential reduced sprint in the velodrome. That’s a tactic that will make rivals even less likely to try to chase Van der Poel down, but it’s not the only option. Just ask Jonathan Milan, the sprinter who has also been quite happy to ride a bit more aggressively for Lidl-Trek these past few weeks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise as Philipsen tries to take some chances of his own. In any case, Alpecin will be very, very hard to beat at Paris-Roubaix.

Is Mads Pedersen healthy enough to contend?

Mads Pedersen at Paris-Roubaix.
Mads Pedersen was among the “best of the rest” behind Van der Poel, Van Aert, and Philipsen last year.

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) has seen his fortunes rise and fall quickly over a short period of time. After he won Gent-Wevelgem, it seemed like he might be a serious challenger to Van der Poel’s dominance, but his Dwars door Vlaanderen crash threw a wrench in those plans (and those of his teammate Jasper Stuyven).

Still, he’s another week removed from the crash and he at least looked OK (if not spectacular) at the Tour of Flanders. He was fourth at Roubaix last year and he has the skillset to shine in this race. With luck, he might find himself in the front group in the finale, and there are few who can beat him in a sprint.

Can Visma take advantage of their last chance on the cobbles?

It was only a month ago that Visma-Lease a Bike won both the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. Now, they are limping into the last big cobbled race of the Spring Classics with no Wout van Aert. A recently ill Christophe Laporte and former Roubaix winner Dylan van Baarle will lead the way for a team that, for the first time in a while, might actually be flying under the radar a bit.

If either or both of those two riders are in top form – and that is a big if – they have a real chance here. Van Baarle has the ability to go from afar and Laporte has a real finishing kick, and if Van der Poel and the rest of the field don’t pay close attention to what the Dutch squad does, they might be able to take the peloton by surprise. Last month, of course, Visma-Lease a Bike winning a bike race would not have been a surprise to anyone, but things have changed and maybe they can use that to their advantage.

Will an outsider emerge on the Roubaix cobbles?

Beyond the big names we just mentioned are plenty of other intriguing riders who will be among the outsiders for victory. Let’s first focus on a rider who has been knocking on the door of Classics triumphs for some time, and one veteran whose Roubaix ambitions might better be described as a reemergence than an emergence.

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) has been close at Roubaix before, and he is better suited to the flat Roubaix course than perhaps any other Classics race. He also has the time trialing legs to go from afar at Roubaix, and that may be the best bet of anyone hoping to best Van der Poel.

Stefan Küng at E3.
Stefan Küng has been solid if unspectacular this Classics campaign, but there’s still time for him to deliver at Paris-Roubaix.

Then there is John Degenkolb (DSM-Firmenich), the former Paris-Roubaix winner whose seventh place finish last year would suggest that he still has something left in the tank at age 35. He might have done even better if not for a late crash in 2023. The absence of would-be favorites like Van Aert opens things up for Degenkolb, who certainly has the experience to know when to expect the big moves.

If you’re looking for fringier outsiders, keep your eyes on the likes of Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers), Luca Mozzato (Arkéa-Samsic), and Ivan García Cortina (Movistar).

When to watch

Riders will roll out from Compiègne at 11:10 am local time (5:10 am ET/10:10 am BST/8:10 pm AEDT). To avoid any risk of missing the decisive move, you should probably be watching by the time the riders are gearing up for the Havuley à Wallers cobbled sector just before the Arenberg at around 2:45 pm local time (8:45 am ET/1:45 pm BST/11:45pm AEDT) . The race should end in the Roubaix velodrome at roughly 5:15 pm local time (11:15 am ET/4:15 pm BST/2:15am AEDT).

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