Paris-Roubaix 2016 preview: six riders to watch

Peter Sagan bids for historic double in the rainbow jersey

The 2016 cobbled Classics comes to close on Sunday (April 10) with Paris-Roubaix as world champion Peter Sagan looks to make history in the race’s 114th edition.

While ten riders have done the Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double in the same year – with Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen doing so twice each – only one, Rik van Looy in 1962, has done it in the rainbow jersey.

John Degenkolb celebrates victory in Paris-Roubaix 12 months ago (Pic: Sirotti)

But after finishing second at E3 Harelbeke and winning at Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, Tinkoff rider Sagan is enjoying his best Classics campaign yet.

However, Cancellara, in his final Paris-Roubaix – a race he has won three times – will be among those out to stop him, alongside a whole host of other Classics stars.

– Paris-Roubaix 2016: TV schedule –

The fact that, since Francesco Moser’s treble between 1978 and 1980, only two further riders have won Paris-Roubaix in consecutive years (Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle and Boonen, since you asked), shows just how unpredictable the race can be too.

So who should you be looking out for on Sunday? We’ve picked out a super six who are likely to have a big role to play on the pavé.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)

Following his Tour of Flanders victory, Paris-Roubaix is now the only one of the four cobbled Classics on the UCI WorldTour Peter Sagan has not won.

After a series of near-misses earlier in the year, Sagan timed his peak in form to perfection and enters Paris-Roubaix as the undoubted one to watch.

Only one man – Rik van Looy – has ever done the Flanders-Roubaix double in the rainbow jersey. Can Peter Sagan match that? (Pic: Sirotti)

The Tinkoff man’s best Paris-Roubaix finish to date is sixth in 2014, and last time out he was 23rd, but the Slovakian is the man in form this year.

If he can take that onto the famous pavé of the Hell of the North, he will be confident of at least his podium place, if not much more.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: 23rd
Best result: sixth (2014)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 2nd, Gent-Wevelgem – 1st, Tour of Flanders – 1st

Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo)

Three-time former winner Fabian Cancellara bids farewell to Paris-Roubaix and the cobbled Classics this year and Spartacus will want to go out with a bang.

Fourth at E3 Harelbeke, fourth again at Gent-Wevelgem and second at the Tour of Flanders, Cancellara clearly has the legs this spring, too.

Fabian Cancellara has done plenty of chasing at the cobbled Classics this year (pic: Sirotti)

The 35-year-old put in a huge chase without reward at E3 Harelbeke, after an ill-timed mechanical, while it was the Swiss superstar chasing down Sagan’s race-winning move at Flanders, having initially not gone with the break.

If he can seize the initiative this time out, rather than having to claw it back, you would fancy him to make it a record-equalling fourth cobblestone trophy in Roubaix.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: n/a (injured)
Best result: winner (2006, 2010, 2013)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 4th, Gent-Wevelgem – 4th, Tour of Flanders – 2nd

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep)

Attention on the Etixx-QuickStep team ahead of Paris-Roubaix will inevitably focus on four-time winner Tom Boonen and 2014 champion Niki Terpstra.

But Zdenek Stybar was second in 2015 – and will be the only one of last year’s podium finishers to race this time out, with John Degenkolb and Greg van Avermaet both injured.

Stybar is the only one of 2015’s podium finishers in action this year (Pic: Sirotti)

The 30-year-old Czech former world ‘cross champion was desperately unlucky not to net at least a podium place in 2013 too, when a spectator caused him to crash as he rode in the race-winning attack.

Boonen and Terpstra are also among the Etixx men to watch this year – but another podium place for Stybar would not come as a surprise.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: 2nd
Best result: 2nd (2015)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 15th, Gent-Wevelgem – 46th, Tour of Flanders – 8th

Luke Rowe (Team Sky)

With Geraint Thomas leading Team Sky’s Classics charge in the last two years, Luke Rowe has been waiting in the wings and has now seized any opportunity with some impressive showings.

He was the British team’s best-placed finisher at Roubaix in 2015, when he came home eighth, and has continued that form in 2016, with top-five finishes at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Tour of Flanders.

Luke Rowe is emerging as a Classics contender (Pic: Sirotti)

The 26-year-old has yet to step on the podium at the cobbled Classics, but he doesn’t look too far away from breaking that duck – particular if Team Sky keep him well protected.

A win may be a step too far just yet, but Paris-Roubaix is anything but predictable and, if he finds himself in the right place at the right time – as he has proved he is capable of doing – he will be a contender.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: 8th
Best result: 8th (2015)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 23rd, Gent-Wevelgem – 22nd, Tour of Flanders – 5th

Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo)

Sep Vanmarcke has had another consistent Classics campaign, and was on the podium at both Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders.

Since being out-thought and out-sprinted by Fabian Cancellara in a two-up sprint in the Roubaix velodrome in 2013, Vanmarcke has been a perennial Classics contender without yet turning podium places into wins.

Sep Vanmarcke is a perrenial Classics contender (Pic: Sirotti)

But the 27-year-old Belgian showed he’s in good shape by escaping with Sagan at both Gent-Wevelgem and the Ronde, in what proved to be race-winning moves.

He has yet to prove he can win one of the big Classics but if he continues where he left off at the weekend he will be in the front group again – and from there, anything can happen.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: 11th
Best result: 2nd (2013)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 8th, Gent-Wevelgem – 2nd, Tour of Flanders – 3rd

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha)

Winner of Milan-San Remo in 2014 and the Tour of Flanders in 2015, Alexander Kristoff was the big favourite for Paris-Roubaix last year but had to settle for tenth place.

Of all the Classics, this is the one in which he has enjoyed the least success – just three finishes, and a best result of ninth.

Alexander Kristoff rode a passive race at the Tour of Flanders, but will hope to be back on top form for Paris-Roubaix (pic: Sirotti)

But once again the Norwegian has made a strong start to the 2016 season and, while illness ruled him out of Gent-Wevelgem, he looked to be getting back to form when he won the first stage of De Panne.

A largely passive race at the Ronde ended with a fourth place, and he was 15th at Scheldeprijs, a race he won last year, but Kristoff is capable of much more and this could be the year he steps things up at Roubaix – if he has the legs.

Paris-Roubaix 2015: 10th
Best result: 9th (2013)
Cobbled Classics 2016: E3 Harelbeke – 53rd, Gent-Wevelgem – DNS, Tour of Flanders – 4th

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