Time for another highly topical Roundtable on the Cobbled Classics, with your springtime Editorial Team of Philip, Jens, Conor and me. This week, we peek back at the Tour of Flanders, but mostly gaze ahead at the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix.
Philip: It's deffo gonna rain this weekend.
Jens: So Chris, you starting us off? And no it won't rain, it never does.
Chris: Sure, maybe just a few minutes of hindsight before we focus on the Scheldepr... Paris-Roubaix
Philip: Ah ha ha ha
Chris: Philip, how's the mood there? I recall in 2010 there was a lot of acceptance of foreigners winning everything. Now?
Philip: Same. Nobody cares about Sep even.
Conor: Even after his good Flanders? Huh.
Jens: Sagan definitely got the loudest cheers in Brugge so that should work well.
Philip: Sagan and Canc are well loved.
Chris: It seems a bit like there isn't a single Belgian star to unite around with Boonen not on great form. Except of course Wout Van Aert.
Philip: Dimi Claeys?
Jens: It feels like they really want to hype Greg Van Avermaet but the people's hearts aren't quite in it.
Chris: Yeah, hitting your stride at 30 isn't the same as Boonen killing Roubaix at 22
Philip: GVA was well hyped this year. I think they're waiting for Stuyven or Benoot to win something
Conor: Benoot's a pretty good hype investment, provided he stays on his bike next year.
Philip: His face was a mess on sunday
Chris: That was a real doodsmak. [Philip, old joke about how it sounds like dude smack]
Chris: Jens, I know you're deep in team stuff, and I don't want to step on that post but is there some squad you have your eye on for Sunday above all others?
Jens: It's the same one we've had our eyes on the whole time. Is Etixx ever going to get anything out of their wide list of almost-top guys?
Conor: Yes. In LBL. Sunday? Not a prayer.
Philip: My thoughts too Conor.
Chris: Wide is a good word for EQS. As opposed to deep. I just think all of those guys are good and none of them are great.
Jens: Other than that Trek look like the kings of the road to me. As in, will almost certainly win Roubaix.
Philip: Sky are strong too.
Chris: Are we sure Cancellara is his old self? I'm not
Conor: Is there any one of us who thinks it isn't Cancellara vs Sagan?
Jens: Yes. I'm not entirely sure Sagan is a factor again. I'm thinking bad luck takes him.
Philip: I thought Cancellara was the strongest guy in the race on Sunday. And complainingest. Though I was several free Kwaremonts deep by then.
Chris: He's very strong, but his younger self would have a "fuck all y'all" card to play. Now he doesn't seem to know how to get rid of the attention.
Conor: I disagree Philip. If he were the strongest, he would have caught Sagan in what was basically a TT. Maybe not beaten him, but caught him.
Chris: Yeah the time gap never changed, even with Sep occasionally pitching in.
Philip: I maintain he lost by waiting.
Chris: That too.
Jens: I'm pretty sure Cance lost himself the race on overconfidence and relying on old habits. He was so sure he would cancel anything out with a monster dig on the Kwaremont like always and this time margins weren't on his side.
Conor: That's part of it, but I don't think he's 100%.
Chris: I agree, he thinks he's 2010 Cancellara but he isn't. I mean, athletes aren't completely un-self-aware and I'm sure he's reasonably intelligent about this stuff, but it's a small margin and it only takes a tiny little bit of denial to fuck it all up.
Philip: I think Vanmarcke is a better fit for Roubaix than RVV. And he's clearly going great
Conor: Yeah, the guy can win Roubaix, and might well have won Flanders if he'd gone with Sagan, but he's not as strong as he's been.
Chris: True. But if his form is on the rise, maybe he'll have that little bit extra. So which LottoNL guys chase him down?
Conor: Good one!
Jens: Teunissen! In a desperate grab for Dutch glory.
Philip: When did Jumbo ever manage to chase anyone down?
Chris: That kid needs longer hair to be a real Teunissen
Jens: And a double first name. Mike-Bert Teunissen ?
Chris: I don't know about you guys, but Gert-Jan Theunissen was the first cyclist I was actually afraid of.
Jens: Ludo Dierckxen here.
Philip: Phwoar. There were a rider
Philip: Belgian who spray painted trucks for a living. Turned pro at 29 and won a Belgian championship on the Muur.
Jens: So shall we move to the most pressing Roubaix question? Weather.
Philip: My forecast now says raining til Saturday then sunny
Conor: Yeah, that's what they all say. 20% chance of rain on Sunday.
Philip: Which is good as I'm farm-track side.
Jens: So how long does it stay sloppy? Will saturday rain affect the roads? I would think?
Conor: Well, they seem to be pretty affected as it is. Shouldn't take much more.
Philip: Museeuw put a picture of the Orchiennes on fb today. Looked a mess 11:05 J: Or "heroic" as he put it.
Chris: Photos already look good and muddy
Jens: I'm assuming that the sides of the roads will be sloppy as hell making them all but unrideable.
Conor: Does that mean that they'll actually have to ride on the cobbles for once?
Philip: They'll pressure wash them on Saturday
Jens: Really? or is that a joke?
Philip: They really do. Same with Koppenberg
Chris: And then they run a bunch of support vehicles over them, which pulls the mud out from between the stones, and presto!
Philip: Can I just shock you? I'll be riding as much verge as possible on Saturday.
Jens: The one place that could be a huge difference if the grassy sides are unrideable is Carrefour de l'Arbre. That makes a hell of a difference.
Chris: Does it help any of the contenders to have it be a "real Robuaix"? Or hurt someone? I tend to think of this as a bike-handling question, and we all know Cancellara and Sagan are otherworldly bike handlers.
Philip: Who can it help more than Tom Boonen? Might net him a top 10
Conor: I think Cancellara probably has better endurance that Sagan, especially if it turns out to be a two-up.
Jens: But we have never seen Cance on a wet Roubaix. He is a bit more of a cautious nelly nowadays. Will he have it in him to go full bore?
Philip: You know who would love a wet Roubaix?
Philip: I was going with Stannard
Conor: Who have we seen on a wet Roubaix? Twelve year-old Boonen?
Chris: Well, he was good that day...
Chris: and Hincapie keeled over in a ditch.
Philip: my 2nd favourite comedy hincapie/Roubaix comedy moment. Best was the look on his face when his steerer snapped.
Conor: Relevant as that is, it doesn't tell us much. I do think that Sagan would be better off with dry weather. Fewer variables.
Chris: Hey! You know who once won a classic in really horrible weather? A certain shy Norwegian kid...
Jens: Lars Boom is the one favorite we know does well on wet Roubaix cobbles
Chris: Yes! And he was pretty good Sunday too, even though he's not really a Flanders threat. So he's on form. Boy, if only there were a Dutch team he could ride for that had a real chance to win.
Conor: He's leading out Fuglsang.
Jens: Chances are, for all the talk, the conditions be it a rainy mudfest or just a bit mud-slimy probably wont have a huge impact on the final outcome. We will of course assume they did, but most likely not.
Chris: Yeah, apart from some slip and slides, but guys crash there all the time regardless.
Conor: What I do think it will do is prevent the actually quite possible 15-guy sprint that I thought was going to happen before Flanders.
Philip: Yeah, one guy will dominate in the wet
Chris: Here's something! The interwebs say 15mph SE winds. Headwinds! Might discourage attacks though...
Philip: What about Styby for a modder?
Conor: He's the only Quickstep guy I think has the slightest chance at Roubaix.
Jens: Ja, headwinds mean no one goes until Carrefour at the earliest right? If we're unlucky.
Conor: When did anyone go last year?
Philip: Wiggo with about 50 to go. Went well as I recalll.
Chris: Well there is the 2011 strategy where you get someone way up the road to be there when it's go time.
Jens: Rough conditions and I like Etixx chances better and better. Tom, Styby and Vandenbergh. All could grind it out in an attrition race.
Conor: Where are they getting two more guys to fill 11th-15th?
Chris: Right! See, they have horses who can be up front in a break and suddenly become relevant when the stars finally come out to play. Seems like something they have to try.
Jens: The "huge" break that lasts long and has some surviving guys who even are a part of the finale is a great feature of this race.
Jens: Iljo is the guy who gives someone his wheel in Arenberg and then calls it a day?
Philip: incorrect. He then rides 85km to the finish solo and takes a beer from the crowd
Willj: Finally someone mentions beer. This is classics season guys.
Chris: True. He's not some random Jose who's been there.
Conor: 15 all.
Philip: I'll just leave this here. From my club.
Chris: Maybe a Stijn VDB becomes very valuable. I guess it depends on who they'll let get away. Like, do they let Viviani get away?[spitballing]
Chris: Stijn Devolder?
Conor:Trek won't send him.
Jens: I would so dearly like to see Etixx play around a little with all the cards they have to play. And not moronically "set a hard pace" for the first 150 kms.
Chris: Right? I mean, can't other teams set a hard pace?
Conor: Sky are famous for it. Speaking of which...Mr. Rowe...
Chris: OK who do Trek send up the road? Rast or Irizar? Rowe will be closely watched.
Chris: Might draw a reaction.
Jens: Rast, Irizar and Devolder I think have proven too useful workhorses. I would guess one of the kids, Theuns or Stuyven. If they really want to put a cat among the pigeons.
Conor: Theuns if it rains, Rast if it doesn't. Or, you know, no one.
Chris: BTW I just checked startlist order. Trek have a bottom-half draw for car order. Garmin are second from the end.
Conor: Don't worry Chris, a puncture or crash won't prevent Breschel finishing well.
Philip: I think Lotto have a nice team...
Chris: Be a shame if something were to happen to it?
Jens: Since when does "nice" get you anything in cycling though? They feel wing-clipped to me at this point.
Philip: this is Jelle Wallays' time to shine.
Chris: My brother will email me about Roelandts any moment now. Sort of an annual tradition.
Jens: Dwars last year was filthy......
Philip: oh indeed
Conor: Yeah, Benoot's broken, Roelandts has half his vertebrae (or something), Wallays...er, what happened in Dwars last year? Greipel is a sprinter who won't make it to the finish with the leaders...
Chris: Shall we move on to predictions?
Conor: Lars van der Haar.
Jens: You can't just randomly toss out cx names in desperation
Philip: Stannard. I'm feeling left field.
Conor: Tom Meeusen! Ah Jens, you've forced me to pick Boom now.
Chris: I'm torn between Boom and Cancellara. So I'll say... Sep Vanmarcke.
Jens: Having gotten the last two races right I'm forced into conservatism. Fabian Cancellara. But I have Boom as a very close second if weather turns bad.
Chris: OK, that's a wrap! Thanks gents.
Conor: Agur! (Basque for goodbye)