The key points:
 175 riders from 25 teams saluted the crowds in Compiègne on Saturday, on the eve of the 117th edition of the Hell of the North.
 Former winners such as Peter Sagan (2018), Greg Van Avermaet (2018) and John Degenkolb (2015) eye a new victory in the iconic velodrome of Roubaix, but outsiders like Alexander Kristoff feel ready for the challenge.

Things can change very fast in the North. Peter Sagan (BORA-hansgrohe) and Greg Van Avermaet (CCC Team) won the last two editions of Paris-Roubaix as outright favourites. But the former World champion and the Olympic champion haven’t been able to score this year in the classics and rivals challenge their dominance. Still, “I’ve had a good race in Flanders (10th) and I’m very motivated to do well and have a good result in Roubaix”, Greg Van Avermaet said on Saturday. “In Flanders, it was tight racing and it was hard to create differences. Roubaix is a different race, very hard, and with wind I hope there will be opportunities to split the peloton. Many riders can win, we could see an outsider, but I think the biggest favorites are Van Aert, Stybar and Sagan.” The Slovak national champion appeared relaxed in Compiègne: “I’m used to being the reigning champion on many races, that doesn’t change much. I’m not worried about my condition. Every year is different, sometimes you’re in a very good shape and you don’t win. It’s such a special race, everything can happen. Three timesI came here feeling very strong and still I didn’t win because something happened. I’ll just try to enjoy myself.”

With a very open race, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) was among the most sought-after favorites on the eve of Paris-Roubaix. “I hope to be up there, fighting for the win”, the Norwegian said. “Actually, I’ve never had a really strong Paris-Roubaix. I’ve been 9th (2013) or 10th (2015). I hope to improve that and to fight for the win, that would be a dream.” Coming off his victory in Gent-Wevelgem and a podium finish on the Tour of Flanders, Kristoff hopes for a favourable scenario: “For me, the bigger the group, the better. For sure, nobody wants to have me with them in the finale but I don’t think they’ll focus on me. There are many strong guys who can make an impact in the finale. I can have a good sprint but there are so many cobble sections before that, we’ll have to see how it goes.”

“It’s never easy to plan things ahead of Roubaix, but I think I’m ready”, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) says ahead of a very special race for him. The German champion won the Hell of the North in 2015 and dominated the 2018 Tour de France stage finishing in Roubaix, a victory many interpreted as his resurrection after years of misfortunes. “It was a very important victory”, Degenkolb reflected on Saturday. “I worked so hard for that result and it gave me a lot of confidence. It helps to stay calm and to focus on the important things. It’s always hard to predict Roubaix, anything can happen. You have to be up there and to save energy but you can’t be scared to invest energy in the right moments. Many times the right moves go from far away. Between 50 and 30 km to go, it’s crucial to be up there, around where Sagan attacked last year and up to the Carrefour de l’Arbre.”

Riders from Direct Énergie and their manager Jean-René Bernaudeau enjoyed the team presentation to display their new kit as Total Direct Énergie becomes their title sponsor and brings new colours for the team. “It’s a jersey that gives us a lot of motivation, and it could be the extra bit of motivation that helps us make a historic feat”, Bernaudeau said in Compiègne. Without the former Paris-Roubaix winner Niki Terpstra, recovering from his crash in Flanders, the French team relies on different riders with a knack for cobbles. “It’s the race I dream of”, Damien Gaudin (5th in 2013) says. “I’ve had good results here and I’m in even better conditions. The team has never had such a good classics campaign, and Niki did bring us a lot.” Among the blue jerseys, Adrien Petit also has strong references in Roubaix (10th in 2016, 9th in 2017) and feels good after finishing 6th in Gent-Wevelgem: “It’s the biggest race of my season. I’ve had a nice classics campaign and I have the abilities to go for a big result.”

The association “Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix” has launched a crowdfunding operation for the public to help them “save the Trouée d’Arenberg”, the iconic cobblestone sector that has done so much for the fame of the Hell of the North. “The 2300 meters of the most mythical cobblestoned sector of Paris-Roubaix suffer from excessive grass that worsens year after year”, the association says as they set a goal of 15,000 €. They already participated in important works on the Trouée ahead of this edition, with the support of local governments, to prevent the sector from being too dangerous in case of rain. It shouldn’t happen this Sunday, with sunny conditions expected and temperatures between 3 and 9ºC. Riders also anticipate headwinds. John Degenkolb, who won in Roubaix in the 2015 edition of the Hell of the North and on the 2018 Tour de France, is the ambassador of the association.

The 9th edition of the Paris-Roubaix Challenge, organised on the eve of the famous classic, saw a massive peloton of 6,839 cyclists riding on three different routes (70, 145 and 172km) all taking on the sectors of the Carrefour de l’Arbre and the Trouée d’Arenberg. 67 different nationalities were represented (23% of Frenchmen, 21% of British riders, and 17% from Belgium). Among them, three riders of Paris-Roubaix were coming back on the cobbles that crowned them: Andreï Tchmil (1994), Andrea Tafi (1999) and Stuart O’Grady (2007).