One last ranking of the teams before we finish off the cobbles action in Roubaix. Chris started us off, Douglas took over before Flanders and now I'm charged with it. Cuddles have been here the whole time. I'm not going to say he is difficult to work with but if there is a fourth one after Roubaix it will likely be a Cuddles one-man-show.
1. Katusha (up from 2nd)
Protagonists: Alexander Kristoff, Luca Paolini
Run of Form: Torrential. Massive. If their run of form was an animal it would be Godzilla. Or possibly a rhinoceros on crack.
Prediction: Kristoff's record in Roubaix isn't terrific but the question is do we look most at record or form? If it's the latter we would be idiots to pick anyone else for Sunday. Last year he had a crashfest but if he can avoid that he should certainly be in the running until late in the game. Personally I still have doubts he will make the velodrome in the front, P-R is a race that tends to defy logic and common sense but we'll see.
I worked as ballast on one of them viking ships back in the day,never been as seasick in my life. Didn't much like Norsemen back then, don't much like'em now.
2. Team Sky (up from 3rd)
Protagonists: Geraint Thomas, Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard
Run of Form: Fading and rising. Stannard recovered from crash.Thomas might have seen his best spring days but Wiggo is coming off a long period of not giving a shit and is now moving rapidly into giving a shit. We all know the
TdF Giro Tour of California Ronde Paris-Roubaix is the one race he has dreamed of winning ever since he was a nipper so he will be great on Sunday.
Prediction: Things have gone well for Sky this spring, no one has called them idiots for weeks which is a first in their classics history so they should be happy with that. Between Wiggo's obvious qualities and his two alternate captains Roubaix could very well become the the moment Sky really master the classics and make all Brit fans endlessly obnoxious cobbles experts.
With this much hype going into Roubaix, what could possibly go wrong?
3. Etixx-Quickstep (down from 1st)
Protagonists: Niki Terpstra, Zdenek Stybar, Stijn Vandenbergh
Run of Form: If you can figure it out then please call our toll-free number with any insight you might have. They're there or thereabouts of course but who is in any condition to salvage their year and actually win a monument? They consistently look like having one of the strongest but never the strongest and when their team-collaboration isn't clicking 100% then what good is their advantage in numbers going to do them?
Prediction: In the end Terpstra is looking as good as he was last year and there's no reason he can't repeat of course. Stybar has unfinished business having found himself in the defensive position for most of the races and never having had the chance to fully exploit what he has inside him form-wise. An active Roubaix could change that .
I Like that Lefevere fellow. I think he is in my Prancercise class?
4. BMC (up from 5th)
Protagonists: Greg van Avermaet, Daniel Oss
Run of Form: Oss is rock solid this year but ultimately not a winner whereas Van Avermaet is better than ever and still can't get onto the top step, even in the smaller races. What does that tell us? That all they need is a bit of luck? An new gameplan? Or maybe go on a new shopping spree to find someone to deliver wins? One idea of course is to keep plugging on and trusting that with the quality they have the wins are bound to me at some point but this is cycling, common sense like that never prevails.
Prediction: Roubaix isn't Van Avermaet's race, his day is always going to be Flanders. The big BMC story on Sunday may very well end up being the debut of new wiz-kid Stefan Küng who earned a ride by proving himself a winner in the pros already. Even if the poor guy is stuck with the "the next Cancellara" moniker it will be fun to see how he does.
Remember that time I finished second in a "Greg Van Avermaet"-joke contest? That was awesome!
5. Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise (up from 9th)
Protagonists: Edward Theuns, Jelle Wallays
Run of Form: . A classics season with a win and second in Dwars and a podium in Scheldeprijs is no laughing matter for a smaller talent team. They most deservedly rank over many of the bigger hitters. Say what you want, getting the results matter.
Prediction: Well, it's been a fun ride but the fun stops here I suppose. Theuns looked outsized at the Ronde distance and their best Roubaix finisher was 70th last year.
I'm not much for plucky underdogs myself. Can't these guys get on a real team like Tinkoff? Vlaanderen? I bet I'm paying for these bums with my taxes. Don't get me started on taxes btw, I haven't paid any since those assholes put asphalt on the N8 between Brakel and Oudenaarde.
6. Lotto-Soudal (up from 7th)
Protagonists: Tiesj Benoot, Jurgen Roelandts, André Greipel, Jens Debusschere
Run of Form: Vintage Lotto really. None of their stars is quite good enough to live up to expectations in the big races. Lots of likable, but ultimatelu fruitless, heroics and a young kid stealing the headlights. I dunno know if it's enough to keep the local backers happy but it isn't the greatest way to succeed in the World Tour. None the less, they are doing fine this spring and they are visible if nothing else.
Prediction: Roubaix proves a bridge too far for young Benoot (Benoooooooot!), Roelandts and Debusshchere are running on empty and the best Roubaix performances come from Greipel and Lars Bak.
It's not easy being the second best Belgian team when even the best on needs a 95% DNF-rate in the race to finish better than second. I suppose they can take comfort in not being the worst Lotto team this year.
7. Tinkoff (down from 6th)
Protagonists: Peter Sagan
Run of Form: Out, as in "has run out of it". Sagan is looking like a blocky shadow of his former self. But then again, that blocky shadow is good enough to finish fourth in Flanders so lets not go overboard with the criticism just yet. Nothing saying he doesn't save his season with a win on Sunday. Interestingly the Podiumcafe has come into possession of a video of Oleg Tinkov's management consultant, giving us an insight to the successful management of the team:
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vZOr0vMz3AM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Prediction: Looks don't deceive. We'll have to keep waiting for Sagan's first big big win. Oleg will be so pleased.
I didn't see my buddies lie face down in the muck on the Koppenberg for this guy to squander his talent, and Oleg's money, on 4th places.
8. Astana (back in the top 10)
Protagonists: Lars Boom
Run of Form: We are still awaiting the report of our independent auditors to provide the answer to this. Please stand by for our mid-August cobbles power poll for the definitive answer. That Boom fellow seems to be doing OK at least?
Prediction: The Rider-formerly-representing-the-coming-hegemony finished sixth in Flanders, did you notice? Nevermind he got outsprinted by a kid who couldn't legally buy a beer at the finish if he tried, a sixth there shows he is on smoking form for Roubaix. He's got enough strong pajama-boys to keep him safe and comfy for a long time so this should be a first trip on the podium for him on Sunday.
If I have to look at two of these ex-cyclocross punks on the podium in Roubaix I'm giving up this gig and joining my brother's paving-business in Poperinge, even if the pay is schist.
9. Giant - Alpecin (down from 8th)
Protagonists: John Degenkolb
Run of Form: These are the Alpecins Anonymous of this classics season. We really aren't seeing too much of them, neither Degs or anyone else. They got it right in Sanremo though and Roubaix is really the race that suits most of them best. Degenkolb has been pretty clear that this is where he fancies his chances most and the form is clearly there.
Prediction: Degenkolb ends up being just a little bit too lightweight when riders put the hammer down to lose Kristoff but some of the supporting guys represent the team well in one of the attack groups.
Maybe if it had been Roubaix-Paris? The Germans are really more used to attacking in the other direction on this course.
10. LottoNL-Jumbo (down from 4th)
Protagonists: Sep Vanmarcke
Run of Form: Fading? Vanmarcke has been insisting that he's missed on isolate incidents of weak moments but it sure does look like a bit of a downward slope since E3 doesn't it? Still that effort to almost close the gap on the Hotond wasn't nothing, it might have been the single most powerful forcing in the entire race. As for the rest of the Jumbos,they are looking decidedly unspectacular but then again that could be a result of everyone working solely for one man. Still, it wouldn't hurt if at least one of them had performed above and beyond and could be up there to play with Sep in the finales.
Prediction: Return of the Seposaurus. With one more day to live out the dream for this year, I think Sep goes for glory full blast. If the form is actually there to take him all the way remains to be seen.
I think everyone knows I'm a loyal guy, I even cheered for Dario Pieri for years even when it was clear he was a bum, so I'm not saying I'm going ditch the Vanmarcke guy in favor of Benoot on my list of idols if he doesn't win Roubaix now. Well actually, that is what I'm saying.
11. Trek Factory Racing
Protagonists: Stijn Devolder
Run of Form: For a team that didn't have much to offer besides Cancellara, they've done fairly well without Cancellara. Last place on this top ten could pretty much go to any number of teams for "plucky, but not quite successful campaigns" Devolder riding with the calm and confidence he has this year is impressive though for a guy that has been written off as a bit of a has-been at times.
Prediction: I've never seen Devolder as a serious Roubaix man myself, the air always seems to out of him a little bit after Flanders-Sunday and then he rides a solid but rarely very impressive Roubaix. He's on a strong trajectory now though and I wouldn't give him much of a leash if I was the opposition on Sunday.
Best Trek-guy on Sunday will probably be that guy tweeting from home under his planket. I'm not going to say anything negative about it, I'd quite like to have a twitter account to spread my wisdom too. If I was a twelve year old girl that is.