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Lessons from Flanders and pointers for Roubaix

Josh Cunningham
6 Apr 2016

Now the dust has settled on the Tour of Flanders, we take a look at what we've learnt going into Roubaix this weekend.

1. Peter Sagan is probably the best rider in the world right now

If he hadn't done so already, Peter Sagan all but sealed his status as the best rider in the world at the moment with a Tour of Flanders performance that included tactical nous, brute strength, and courage. When Sagan followed Michal Kwiatkowski's attack with 33km to go, he was laying down a big and bold hand, as he was devoid of team support at that stage. Then by pulling away with Sep Vanmarcke on the Kwaremont and then dropping him on the Paterberg, Sagan displayed a confidence that has eluded him in recent years, and by out-riding the subsequent Vanmarcke-Cancellara patnership to win by 25 seconds, proved his superior strength. And wheelies apparently never get old. [Yes they do...-Ed]

2. Cancellara wll be extra motivated for Paris-Roubaix

Being his last season, and currently sitting a step below Tom Boonen and Roger De Vlaeminck's record equal four victories, on top of being beaten to Flanders victory by Sagan, will all merge into a melting pot of motivation for Fabian Cancellara. While he doesn't need another victory to seal his place in history as an all-time Classics legend, that won't change his desire for one last win. His strengths suit Paris-Roubaix a fraction more than Flanders, and he probably favours the race more because of that too. He's also riding a brand new bike.

3. Van Avermaet, Demare (and Benoot?) are out of the Classics

An early fall in the Tour of Flanders took out Milan-San Remo winner Arnaud Demare, and while 37th at Roubaix last year may not sound like much, the Frenchman was 7th on the cobblestones of Gent-Wevelgem two weeks ago, and had been targeting Roubaix though his team think he may still start. More of a heavyweight was BMC's Greg Van Avermaet, who went into the Spring Classics as a strong favourite for at least one victory, but after breaking his collarbone in a crash that took out almost the entire BMC team, his campaign is effectively over. Lotto Soudal's young sensation Tiesj Benoot also had a heavy tumble, picking up plentiful abrasions and a badly bruised elbow, and despite expressing a desire to do so, will not be riding Scheldeprijs today. Whether or not the joint Lotto leader will start in Roubaix remains to be decided. 

4. Luke Rowe is a genuine Classics threat

While 8th at Paris-Roubaix last year put Luke Rowe into the Classics contender reception room, his 5th place on Sunday - on top of an already-impressive 2016 Classics season - gained him entry into the banqueting hall. Rather than his name being a surprising but happy addition to the front group at any given time, the general tone of commentators and fans alike is increasingly suggestive of it being expected. He will be going into Roubaix with high hopes indeed.

5. Team Sky are strong in numbers, but lack conviction

In a problem that most expected to befall Etixx-QuickStep, Team Sky are in the happy yet problematic position of having an abundance of potential winners. As well as Luke Rowe, Sky had Geraint Thomas, Ian Stannard and Kwiatkowski present in the favourites group that formed after the Taaienberg, and no sooner had Stannard been reeled back in did Kwiatkowski attack - and start the winning move before being dropped out of it - with Peter Sagan. Despite their claiming otherwise, could there still be too many chiefs at Team Sky?

6. Etixx-QuickStep continue to lack 

Despite having one of the strongest teams of individuals, Etixx-QuickStep can't seem to shake the continued underperformance that's plagued them for the whole Classics season. While they managed two in the top ten at Flanders with Zdenek Stybar and Niki Terpstra, EQS weren't overly visible - with the only memorable image of Tom Boonen being him struggling to get back on terms with the favourites group after the Taaienberg climb he's usually famous for attacking on.

7. Tom Boonen probably won't get a record 5th Roubaix victory

See above mainly, but also a season of mediocre results (by Tornado Tom standards) that have failed to see him breach the top ten in any Classic this year. But he did suffer a crash in Flanders - the same one which took down Demare - which could have impacted his ride, and regardless, there is always hope with Boonen. Only time will tell whether he has the legs on Sunday. 

8. Sep Vanmarcke is the new Greg Van Avermaet

...Great at getting on the podium - and until this season for Van Avermaet - not so good at turning podiums into victories. While the Belgian is undoubtedly strong (8th E3, 2nd Gent-Wevelgem and now 3rd at Flanders), he has lacked either that clinical show of nous, or overriding strength, to deliver a final blow. This means that while nobody will be too surprised if he does find himself atop the podium in Roubaix, there would be more expectation to see him come in best of the rest - just like the 2013 edition, when Fabian Cancellara out-sprinted him after the two escaped together. But still only 27, and with Van Avermaet showing winning capabilities of late, there is much hope yet for Vanmarcke. 

9. Safety will remain scrutinised 

The tragic death of Antoine Demoitie was the crux of increasing dialogue over safety - for riders and racing situations at large. At the Tour of Flanders, an Etixx-QuickStep car appeared to knock down a Giant-Alpecin mechanic amid the confusion that followed the Tiesj Benoot crash, and live images from a moto-camera mid-way up the Taaienberg clearly showed it to be a little too close to the action.

Subject to a final recce, Paris-Roubaix organisers are considering removing the first sector, Troisville, due to it being covered in mud, which clearly shows a consciousness of a potential hazard. But with rain possible on Sunday, at what point does every sector become potentially dangerous? 

10. Schelde-stay-out-of-trouble-prijs remains a worry

It's a perennial debate, whether or not to ride the mid-week sprinter's race of Scheldeprijs in Antwerp. While a rider's condition may benefit physically, keeping their bodies awake and up to speed between Flanders and Roubaix, the race is also prone to crashes - as demonstrated by a big one in the finale last year

Cancellara himself came down in a crash here in 2013, amid a Flanders-Roubaix double, but while staying upright is a deterrent, it won't stop the big guns from riding. Sagan's Tinkoff team are working for fellow Slovak Eric Baska, while Etixx-QuickStep will be riding for Marcel Kittel, with Tom Boonen et al merely hoping to stay out of trouble for the benefit of race kilometres. 

Read more on route, history and classic editions in our Paris-Roubaix preview here