One of the scenarios that could unfold in the 119th edition of Paris–Roubaix is a duel between the two cobble-gobblers who look set to dominate the northern classics in the 2020s: Mathieu van der Poel, who claimed his second Tour of Flanders last weekend, and Wout van Aert, still on the hunt for his first Monument on the cobblestones.
The Belgian champion is not the only rider from his country eager to replicate Tom Boonen’s exploits a decade after their illustrious predecessor’s last triumph. The 2021 runner-up, young Florian Vermeersch, will be looking to fish in troubled waters, as will seasoned veterans such as Zdeněk Štybar, Kasper Asgreen, Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff and Greg Van Avermaet.
Flying the flag for the host nation, Christophe Laporte and Anthony Turgis will be looking to translate their sparkling form into concrete results.
Overlapping trajectories, different yet complementary pedigrees, career highlights filled with flashes of brilliance and epic showdowns are what defines the long-running duel between Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert, one of the most gripping rivalries on the current cycling scene. After the debate on their talent in cyclo-cross, the conversation has now moved on to which of the two cobble-gobblers has the most voracious appetite. The Dutchman leads so far thanks to two victories in the Tour of Flanders (2020 and 2022) and third place in his Paris–Roubaix debut in 2021. Van Aert clearly has some catching up to do, but a large share of the blame for his mediocre results to date can be pinned on his bad luck in the cobbled races. Just last Sunday, he was forced to sit out De Ronde due to a bout of COVID-19. Even if he manages to recover in time for Easter Sunday, will the Belgian champion have what it takes to withstand Van der Poel’s onslaughts, which buried his chances in 2021 after he got caught up in another rider’s crash in the Trouée d’Arenberg? Fans of squabbles and wobbles on the cobbles will be licking their chops at the prospect of a two-way fight, but there are a bunch of riders determined to tear up the script and snatch the win from under the Jumbo–Visma and Alpecin–Fenix team leaders‘ noses.
The pundits‘ first instinct is to turn towards Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team, which is banking on a four-pronged offensive with previous podium finishers Zdeněk Štybar and Yves Lampaert as well as Kasper Asgreen and Florian Sénéchal. A quick flashback to last October also reveals another serious contender in the shape of Florian Vermeersch, the leader of the other big Belgian team, Lotto Soudal, who stole the show at the tender age of 22 with second place in the velodrome in his first participation, a performance that brought back memories of Tom Boonen bursting onto the stage with third place in 2002. The youngsters may be ready to seize power, but old rockers never die. It would be foolish to write off former winners Peter Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet or other tough cookies such as Alexander Kristoff and Jasper Stuyven. There is also an opening for Ineos Grenadiers to reach the pinnacle of the cobbled races. Filippo Ganna and Dylan van Baarle, second in the Tour of Flanders last Sunday, will spell double trouble for the competition. The French are pinning their hopes on Christophe Laporte, now racing as Jumbo–Visma’s back-up leader following his sixth place in 2021, and Anthony Turgis, swelling with ambition after finishing second in Milan–San Remo a few weeks ago.
25 teams, main contenders
Team BikeExchange–Jayco: Durbridge, Matthews (AUS) and Mezgec (SLO)
Bahrain Victorious: Mohorič (SLO), Haussler (AUS) and Wright (GBR)
Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team: Lampaert (BEL), Štybar (CZE), Asgreen (DEN) and Sénéchal (FRA)
Lotto Soudal: Vermeersch, Campenaerts and Van Moer (BEL)
Alpecin–Fenix: Van der Poel (NED), Philipsen, Merlier (BEL) and Dillier (SUI)
Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux: Kristoff (NOR) and Petit (FRA)
Bingoal Pauwels Sauces WB: Dupont, Menten (BEL) and Aniołkowski (POL)
Sport Vlaanderen–Baloise: Herregodts and Marit (BEL)
AG2R Citroën Team: Van Avermaet, O. Naessen and Dewulf (BEL)
Cofidis: Walscheid (GER) and Vanbilsen (BEL)
Groupama–FDJ: Le Gac (FRA) and Küng (SUI)
TotalEnergies: Sagan (SVK), A. Turgis (FRA) and Boasson Hagen (NOR)
Team Arkea-Samsic: Capiot (BEL), Hofstetter (FRA) and McLay (GBR)
B&B Hotels – KTM: Debusschere (BEL), Gougeard and Jauregui (FRA)
Bora–Hansgrohe: Politt (GER) and Archbold (NZL)
Israel-Premier Tech: Vanmarcke (BEL) and Schmidt (DEN)
Astana Qazaqstan Team: Felline (ITA) and Gruzdev (KAZ)
Jumbo–Visma: Van Aert (BEL), Laporte (FRA) and Teunissen (NED)
Team DSM: Degenkolb (GER) and Eekhoff (NED)
Uno-X Pro Cycling Team: Tiller (NOR)
Movistar Team: García Cortina and Erviti (ESP)
United Arab Emirates
UAE Team Emirates: Bjerg (DEN) and Ackermann (GER)
Ineos Grenadiers: Van Baarle (NED), Ganna and Viviani (ITA)
EF Education–EasyPost: Bisseger (SUI), Keukeleire (BEL) and Langeveld (GER)
Trek–Segafredo: Stuyven (BEL), M. Pedersen (DEN) and Theuns (BEL)