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What is the best build up for Paris-Roubaix?

Ahead of Paris-Roubaix this weekend, Cyclist takes a look at how the five previous winners prepared for the Queen of the Classics

For many riders, Sunday's Paris-Roubaix is the focal point of the Spring Classics campaign, the primary target of the opening phase of the season. With that in mind, we thought we'd take a look how the previous five winners have structured their race programmes in the run-up to the one-day Classic

Looking back down the years, it's clear that there's no single formula for success at the Hell of the North. Some teams and riders have looked to cram in as many races as possible, riding every single-day race going with a few stage races thrown in for good measure. Others have taken a much more hands-off approach.

Last year's champion Peter Sagan went for something in between. He skipped the opening Classics weekend at Omloop Het Niuewsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, instead starting his campaign at Strade Bianche, in which he finished eighth. 

He then raced Tirreno-Adriatico, where he finished second on three separate stages, was sixth at Milan-San Remo and 26th at E3-Harelbeke. He then took the victory at Gent-Wevelgem, which made him favourite to defend his 2017 Tour of Flanders title.

The Slovakian was on course to do so too, until he crashed on the Oude Kwaremont in the final 16km after catching his bars on a coat left precariously dangled on a set of railings. He eventually rolled in sixth but had clearly been in good form, which he then converted into his maiden Roubaix victory the next week.

Go back to 2017 and Greg Van Avermaet rode almost every Cobbled Classic on the calendar winning a good number of them too. Shrugged off his reputation as a perennial bridesmaid, he topped the podium at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, E3 Harelbeke and Gent-Wevelgem before capping a superb one-day season off with victory in Roubaix. 

On the way he also took second in both the Tour of Flanders and Strade Bianche, and even managed to fit in a team time-trial win in at Tirreno-Adriatico for good measure.

At the opposite end of the scale, 2016 winner Mat Hayman took a decidedly hands-off approach to his Roubaix build-up. Not by choice, either – he broke his collarbone in a crash very early in the season, which ruled him out for nearly all of the Spring Classics campaign.

Instead, he spent hour upon hour slogging away on the turbo trainer to get back to fitness before the Classics came to an end.

Paris-Roubaix marked his big return to the peloton, and after some strong riding, tactical shrewdness and a bit of luck, he claimed victory over the joint-greatest Roubaix rider of all time, Tom Boonen.

Hayman aside, all of the other Roubaix winners in the past five years have ridden either Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico as a week-long stretch of preperation before narrowing down their schedules to an assortment of one-day races in their Spring campaigns.

For instance, 2015 Roubaix winner John Degenkolb began at Milan-San Remo, which he won, before riding the major cobbled races of E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, and using that as a platform for victory in Roubaix the week after.

Niki Terpstra, the surprise winner of 2014, also had a very cobbles-orientated schedule, which included Dwaars Door Vlaanderen (which he won), followed by E3, the Driedaagse of West Vlaanderen (a stage race) and the Tour of Flanders in the space of a week.

It was a very intensive schedule, but one that suits the hardened Dutchman. 

Fabian Cancellara, who won in 2013, and Tom Boonen, who won in 2012, also shared the same schedule, riding Milan-San Remo, E3, Gent-Wevelgem, Flanders, Scheldeprijs and Roubaix. 

Interestingly they are the last two Roubaix winners to have included Scheldeprijs in their schedule, a race that falls in the midweek between the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.

In recent years the sprinters' race has developed a reputation of being too 'risky', in that any crash or other mishap could rule out being on the start line for Paris-Roubaix just four days later. This year's edition, for instance, saw only Sep Vanmarcke, Nils Pollit and Ian Stannard line up of those expected to feature on Sunday.

Overall, what is clear is that rarely does a novice race to victory on the cobbles of Roubaix and it is almost an unwritten rule that to win Roubaix, you have to have bagged a top 10 there previously.

Hayman, Van Avermaet and winners from even further back like Magnus Backstedt and Johan Vansummeren all earned their dues before being rewarded with their victory cobble.

It takes experience to master this race as well as strong legs and a never-say-die attitude.

You do also need a massive spattering of luck (just ask Hayman, Vansummeren and Stuart O'Grady) and the nous the position yourself correctly on each set of cobbles.

Previous winners' schedules

Sagan (2018): Tour Down Under, Strade-Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders 

Van Avermaet (2017): Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Strade Bianche, Tirren-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders

Hayman (2016): Paris-Roubaix

Degenkolb (2015): Milan-San Remo, E3-Harelbeke, Gent-Wevelgem, Tour of Flanders

Terpstra (2014): Dwars Door Vlaanderen, E3-Harelbeke, Driedaagse, Tour of Flanders