Tour of Flanders champion Niki Terpstra (QuickStep Floors) is one of four former winners set for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday (April 8) as attention switches from the cobbled bergs of Flanders to the bone-jarring pavé.
Terpstra won at Paris-Roubaix in 2014, and will be among the leading contenders again this year after a stellar Spring Classics season.
Defending champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) will wear dossard number one, meanwhile, while John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) are the other former winners set for the start line.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and last year’s runner-up Zdenek Stybar (QuickStep Floors) are other big names on the startlist, while the British flag will be flown by Team Sky’s Welsh trio of Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe and Owain Doull, and former podium finisher Ian Stannard.
Let’s take a closer look at the route and the riders to watch on Sunday…
The route – 29 sectors of cobbles; 257km
Race organisers ASO have worked out the 29 sectors of cobbles include more than 6,000,000 cobblestones – with 54.5km of the 257km taking place over the iconic pavé.
As with the Tour of Flanders, the cobbles do not kick in until after a long opening section – in this case, Troisvilles a Inchy, the first cobbled sector, comes after 93.5km of racing.
The difference between Roubaix and Flanders, of course, is that Paris-Roubaix is practically pan-flat – meaning big gears.
Of the 29 sectors, three have been rated five (out of five) on the difficulty scale – the iconic Arenberg Forest (2.4km long at the 162km mark); Mons-en-Pévèle (3km at 208.5km mark); and the Carrefour de l’Arbre (2.1km after 240km of racing).
Position in the race is another key factor, meanwhile, with the latter the fourth-last sector, and coming just moments after the four-star Camphin-en-Pévèle sector has been tackled.
The race then famously concludes with a lap of the Roubaix Velodrome, with Van Avermaet triumphing in a five-way sprint last year.
Defending champion Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing) will wear dossard number one, keen to kick-start his season after finishing fifth at the Tour of Flanders last week.
After a stunning spring last time out, the Belgian only has one victory to his name this year, at the Tour of Oman.
Instead, it has been 2014 champion Niki Terpstra (QuickStep Floors) in stunning form – the Dutchman’s victory at the Tour of Flanders followed wins at Le Samyn and E3 Harelbeke too.
He was unlucky to crash out of last year’s race after a catastrophic component failure, which Specialized held their hands up to and apologised.
With Tom Boonen now retired, Terpstra is one of several leading QuickStep Floors riders looking to step up – with last year’s runner-up Zdenek Stybar another leading contender.
Stybar has now finished second twice, and would have had at least another podium finish but for a collision with an over-exuberant spectator back in 2013.
Alongside Terpstra and Van Avermaet, the other former winners in action are John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott).
Degenkolb’s victory, in 2015, followed success at Milan-San Remo in the same year, but the German has struggled to recreate his best form since a pre-season training camp crash, when a car ploughed into him and several team-mates, ahead of the following season.
He won twice at Challenge Mallorca to open this season, but has not claimed a victory since – finishing well down the pecking order in the cobbled Classics so far this spring.
Veteran Hayman was a surprise winner in 2016, meanwhile, and the 39-year-old is not expected to add to what was only the third pro win of his career.
Third last year, and now a three-time top-ten finisher at Paris-Roubaix, Sebastian Langeveld (EF-Drapac) is another who is yet to showcase his best form so far this spring, meanwhile.
In better form is team-mate Sep Vanmarcke, who finished third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and seventh at E3 Harelbeke.
World champion Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) is yet to stand on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, meanwhile, but he too must not be ignored.
He won at Gent-Wevelgem, but had to settle for sixth at both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders.
Other Classics stars to look out for are Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), who finished fourth last year, and heavyweight sprinters like Arnaud Demare (FDJ), who was inside the top-ten for the first time in his career in that race.
Demare has been on the podium at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, Milan-San Remo and Gent-Wevelgem already this season, while Stuyven has been super-consistent through the spring so far with top-ten finishes in his last five races.
Finally, other potential dark horses include Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), who won on the cobbles at the Tour de France in 2015 and is now keen to transfer that form to the famous Monument.