Gilbert wins Paris-Roubaix!
He's done it. Philippe Gilbert used all of years of experience and dips beneath Nils Politt on the Côte d'Azur – a la Magnus Bäckstedt in 2004 – to take the shortest route to the finishing line. In track cycling that move would be illegal, but despite concluding on a track this is very much a road race and so was entirely within the rules.
Nils Politttakes second while Yves Lampaert rounds off the podium on what has been a brilliant day for Deceuninck-Quick Step.
Here we go ...
Nils Politt takes the bell, just ahead of Philippe Gilbert.
Final section of cobbles
Nils Politt leads the way, Philippe Gilbert is sat on his wheel as they enter the velodrome.
1.5km to go
Hang on, what's this? Yves Lampaert is looming, but can the Belgian national champion close the gap?
2km to go
Philippe Gilbert and Nils Politt are holding their advantage at around 40secs. Once they arrive in the velodrome in Roubaix there will be the small matter of one-and-a-half laps of the track before one of these riders wins their first Paris-Roubaix title. Just minutes away now.
5km to go
Peter Saganhas been dropped by Yves Lampaert so one would imagine there will be two Deceuninck-Quick Step riders on the podium today, but who will take the top step: Philippe Gilbert or Nils Politt?
6km to go
Nils Polittis grimacing, licking his lips. Dry with dust and, no doubt, thirsty. There's no time to take a swig from the bidon right now. Further back, Peter Sagan is labouring. The defending champion is looking spent.
7km to go
Onto the penultimate section of cobbles and Philippe Gilbert presses on. The Belgian appears to want to shake off the German, but the Katusha-Alpecin rider is hanging in there. He's proved time and again today that he can match the big names.
9km to go
Philippe Gilbertgives a little flick of his left arm to let the young German know it is his turn to ride. Nils Politt duly passes through. The pair now lead Peter Sagan by over 35secs.
10km to go
Nils Politt, the 25-year-old Katusha-Alpecin rider, has won just one race before – a stage at the Deutschland Tour –while Philippe Gilbert has a shedload. I cannot see the pair being caught now. Remember, just two Germans have won this race before, Josef Fischer in 1896 and John Degenkolb in 2015.
Nils Politt has gone now and he's looking strong. Only Philippe Gilbert had the legs to close the gap on him. Peter Sagan, Sep Vanmarcke and Yves Lampaert are labouring a handful of seconds back. Just two cobbled sectors remain now, including the final run into the velodrome which really cannot be considered cobbles - they're like the ones you get in town centre in the UK. Smooth as carpet.
And then there were four
Yves Lampaert is paying the price for his earlier show on strength. Just Sep Vanmarcke, Peter Sagan, Nils Politt and Philippe Gilbert out in front now.
Philippe Gilbertputs in a second big attack of the day. The veteran rider cut down the gulley below team-mate Yves Lampaert. Peter Sagan responds in kind. Game on.
Carrefour de l'Arbre time!
Yves Lampaert attacks in the early stretch of gnarly five-star cobbles. Peter Sagan responded in kind, while Nils Politt appeared to struggle.
17.5km to go
Yves Lampaert and Sep Vanmarcke have managed to bridge over to Peter Sagan, Nils Politt and Philippe Gilbert. The next key point in this race is the Carrefour de l'Arbre, coming up in just over 500 metres. Plenty of rubber necking in this small, select, group.
20km to go
After sitting up and looking fairly relaxed having been dropped, Yves Lampaert decides he has the legs and he's chasing Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Philippe Gilbert. The Belgian national champion is taking with him Sep Vanmarcke, but Wout Van Aert is struggling.
Gilbert attacks ...
... as soon as the riders ran out of cobbles and hit the smooth asphalt. The Deceuninck-Quick Step rider took with him Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin) while Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) trail by a handful of seconds.
24km to go
Another section of cobbles have been completed – section seven, Cysoing to Bourghelles – and there appears to be a slight easing up of pace. The riders will be getting very fatigued now and, presumably, will be thinking about Carrefour de l'Arbre. Will there be any moves on the final five-star section? Will there be a further whittling down of the group? Their advantage, meanwhile, has droped to 50secs.
30km to go
There has been no change in the race. Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is on the front of the chasing group, but the six riders up the road are holding their lead at around one minute. I can't imagine too many of these ridders will want to go into the open air velodrome in Roubaix alongside Peter Sagan who is the best sprinter out of this group. Here's a quick look at their respective histories in this great race:
I imagine Sep Vanmarcke is still having nightmares from that race in 2013 when he lost out to Fabian Cancellara. He's a fine, fine rider, but so far the Belgian has yet to land a monument. I think if he is to end that wait then he may have to risk it all and go for a long one. Could today be the day he ends that long, long wait? Stay tuned to find out.
37km to go
Peter Sagan's group has increased its advantage to over a minute now. There are eight sectors of cobblestones to follow, including the five-star Carrefour de l'Arbre which is an utter brute to ride.
40km to go
The leading group is working well together, each rider doing his turn. Their advantage has grown out to almost a minute. The winner, surely, will be coming from this group.
Van Avermaet in pursuit
Greg Van Avermaet, the 2017 winner here at Paris-Roubaix, has attacked off the front of the second group and the CCC team leader is attempting to close that quite sizable gap on the race leaders. Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-Quick Step) jumps on the Belgian's wheel.
As it stands: 45km to go
There's a six-man group leading the race and those riders – Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First), Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin), Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step) and Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) – have almost 40secs on the second group.
48km to go: Mons-en-Pévèle
Peter Sagan opens up the taps and the defending champion is looking lively. With that injection in pace, Marc Sarreau stated to suffer and the Frenchman looks cooked. Philippe Gilbert, by the way, has been caught and he's riding alongside Deceuninck-Quick Step team-mate Yves Lampaert.
50km to go
Philippe Gilberthas now ridden Nils Politt off his wheel. The Belgian has a team-mate in Yves Lampaert around 10secs behind, so good news for Deceuninck-Quick Step who can allow Peter Sagan to do all the chasing. Woet Van Aert, Sep Vanmarcke (EF Education First) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis, Solutions Crédits) are also in the chasing group.
52km to go
Philippe Gilbertand Nils Politt dropped Rüdiger Selig and the Bora-Hansgrohe rider has been caught by a group of around seven riders, led by defending champion Peter Sagan.
57km to go
A Groupama-FDJ rider – Marc Sarreau – put in a dig on the three-star Orchies sector of cobbles, but the Frenchman was given no room to manouvre. All back as one in the main pack; while the leading trio's advantage is holding at around 20sec.
60km to go
The leading trio has seen its advantage to grow out to 22secs. Remember folks, Philippe Gilbert has three monuments – Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia – on his palmarès, but he has only ridden Paris-Roubaix on two previous occasions. The Belgian's best ever finish came last year with a 15th spot.
63km to go
Wesley Krederhas been shelled by the WorldTour riders and it's Philippe Gilbert, Nils Politt and Rüdiger Selig who lead the way. European road champion Matteo Trentin is back near the front of the chasing group while Luke Rowe is the only Team Sky rider present.
The gang of four: 65km to go
Three riders – Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin) and Rüdiger Selig (Bora-Hansgrohe) – have managed to bridge over to Wesley Kreder. This is good news for Deceuninck-Quick Step and Bora-Hansgrohe who can now afford to allow the other teams do the work in the chase. The quartet's lead has grown slightly to 15secs.
67km to go
Wesley Kreder, the 28-year-old who is making his third appearance at Paris-Roubaix, has put around 10secs into the leading group. I really cannot see the Dutchman holding onto his lead, there are some very strong riders in pursuit.
Reports are coming in that a tearful Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) has left the race after colliding with Jumbo-Visma team car. Back on the road, Wesley Kreder (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) is leading the way over the four-star section 15 of cobbles (Tilloy to Sars-et-Rosières). Peter Sagan's team-mate Marcus Burghardt either had a mechanical or a crash and the German has lost contact with the main protagonists.
Van Aert is back on!
Wout Van Aerthas managed to latch onto the back of the leading group. What he and Mathieu van der Poel have done in the last seven days has been a great advert for cyclo-cross. These kids can ride!
75km to go
The leaders have completed sector 17, the 3.7km Hornaing à Wandignies drag. John Degenkolb is up near the front and is looking relatively comfortable. Wout Van Aert, meanwhile, is still over a minute off the pace. For those who think Van Aert's day is done, I have two words for you. Strade. Bianche. Those of you who followed the Italian race with us here at Telegraph Sport last month will remember how the 24-year-old was ridden into the dust by Jakob Fuglsang and Julian Alaphilippe only to recover and claw his way back into contention. His powers of recovery are incredible.
Wout Van Aert, the former world cyclo-cross champion, is back on the road following that spill. Once again, he's chasing back on and has been showing off his cross skills weaving in and out of the cars.
The Jumbo-Visma rider trails the leading group by over one minute.
Van Aert crashes!
Terrible news for Wout Van Aert. After working tirelessly to get back on, the young Dutchman crashed as the road veered off to the right.
85km to go
Matti Breschel (EF Education First), Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida), Andreas Schillinger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quick Step) are working their way through the team cars in an attempt to catch the leading group. Absolute chaos on the road which is barely the width of a car. Through the dust clouds, somehow, the drivers of the cars swing onto the verge to allow the riders through. All at the same time as trying to avoid hitting any roadside spectators. A stressful job being a sporting director on days like this!
Vandenbergh on the move
Stijn Vandenbergh (Ag2r-La Mondiale) put in a huge effort going through the Trouée d'Arenberg.
The leading riders have navigated their way over the five-star section with Woet van Aert and Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida) appearing the biggest casualties. Both are labouring some distance behind.
Van Avermaet is flying
Greg Van Avermaet leads the way as the bunch hits the Trouée d'Arenberg. Peter Sagan appeared to lose a wheel, but is digging deep. Luke Rowe (Team Sky) is near the front, too. Further back, Woet van Aert has fallen off the back and is now behind the team cars.
Trouée d'Arenberg time!
Ag2r-La Mondiale, Trek-Segafredo and CCC Team are all well-positioned. As are Deceuninck-Quick Step. Jumbo-Visma have around five riders in the leading group, but they are not looking very organised in the run-in to the Trouée d'Arenberg which looks a little like this:
98km to go
Just under 5km from the Trouée d'Arenberg. The riders appear to have slowed up ever-so-slightly. That will change in the run-in to the trench. Peter Sagan is back in contention, as is Oliver Naesen who has a posse of Ag2r-La Mondiale team-mates alongside him. Trek-Segafredo, too, have numbers near the front. Will today be a John Degenkolb day?
100km to go
As the road criss-crosses through these flat fields in northern France, swinging left to right the cross winds are causing the riders to ride down the gutter. Further back our Rwandan friend Joseph Areruya was just spotted at the back where he may have fallen. Not entirely sure what happened, but I don't think he's injured.
103km to go: Haveluy à Wallers
CCC and Team Sky are both sat near the front. Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) is there too and the Austrian rider has taken things up on the front. There are a few Deceuninck-Quick Step riders up near the front also, but you would expect that, wouldn't you?
Iljo Keisse (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has crashed heavily and I can't see him getting back up. The Belgian appeared to clip some road furniture. The race medics were quick off their motorbikes and attending to the Belgian who, fortunately, was spotted moving.
110km to go
Florian Sénéchalappears to have done some significant damage with that injection in pace. Pre-race favourites Peter Sagan and Alexander Kristoff are around 30secs further back. Oliver Naesen (Ag2r-La Mondiale), too, is suffering.
As it stands there are two big groups speeding their way towards the four-star Haveluy à Wallers section.
Sénéchal takes it up
Florian Sénéchal, the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider who won Le Samyn earlier this season, has taken thing up on the front. The Frenchman is leading the way over section 21, the three-star Maing to Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon.
Alexander Kristoff, meanwhile, has again punctured. The Norwegian is not having the best of days.
Daniel Oss, Peter Sagan's loyal lieutenant and the man-of-the-match during the 2017 edition when he was riding for Greg Van Avermaet, has crashed.
117km to go
All back as on now and there is just one long drawn out group now, featuring around 80 riders. Two more four-star sections to follow before the riders hit the Trouée d'Arenberg. The five-star section that cuts through the Arenberg forest. The riders here will speed past the Wallers Arenberg mining pit, on a slight descent of around 1.5% in gradient before gathering speed and hitting a rail crossing before it starts: the awful, drag on along Trouée d'Arenberg. The cliché is that the race is never won here, but it can be lost. That said, Greg Van Avermeat was way off the pace going into it in 2017, but he somehow clawed his way back before claiming a brilliant win.
Section 23 incoming ...
The leading riders are about to hit Verchain-Maugré to Quérénaing, the 1.6km four-star sector. Peter Sagan has fallen off the back, but his brother and team-mate Juraj Sagan dropped back to help out. With the Trouée d'Arenberg nearing, the defending champion will need to shuffle his way up the field.
125km to go
Just hearing that my outside pick Damien Gaudin has had a mechanical and the Frenchman has now dropped back to the peloton. The chasing group appears to be closing in on the breakaway.
A Jumbo-Visma rider – think it is Taco van der Hoorn – has crashed and it looks pretty bad. I'm not entirely sure what happened, but hopefully that grass verge and ploughed field that these cobbled road weave through will have softened his the impact from his fall.
Silvan Dillier, meanwhile, is the latest rider to puncture.
Theuns doing a big turn
Jumbo-Visma and Bahrain-Merida have taken up their position on the front of the peloton, which trails the race leaders by just under 30secs. Wout van Aert was just spotted trailing the main bunch, but he looks fairly relaxed.
Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) has clipped off the front on sector 24.
Section 25 ...
... no, not the post-punk Factory band, but the 1.5km two-star Saint-Python sector of cobbles here at Paris-Roubaix. Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) leads the way over the short gnarly section. The German has been touted as a bit of an outsider here today, and the 25-year-old is well placed right now to do something big. A long way to go yet, though.
Matteo Trentin is the next rider to puncture. The Mitchelton-Scott rider has decided to take a wheel from neutral service. The European road race champion is in fine form right now and will not want to lose too much time waiting for a team car or team-mate.
142km to go
Team Sky, CCC Team and Bahrain-Merida are driving the pace on the front of what I'm calling the main bunch right now. None of these squads have any representation in the leading group.
Alexander Kristoff is chasing back on after collecting a new wheel. Not good news that for the big Norwegian who is in great form right now, but he's never finished higher than ninth in this race. How much will this effort cost him?
Sector 26: Quiévy à Saint-Python
André Greipel(Arkéa-Samsic) has punctured and a team-mate stopped to swap a wheel, meanwhile Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) reportedly needs a new wheel.
Proper dust up!
It's a dry day today out in northern France, but just because the cobbles are not slippery does not mean it's a comfortable day out in the saddle for these riders. The dust that kicks up from the bikes and support vehicles can make it an extremely uncomfortable experience. Breathing is incredibly difficult in these conditions. And vision.
149km to go
Jay Thomson (Dimension Data) appears to have had a mechanical. The South African has pulled up at the side of the road. Meanwhile, just spotted that Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) has also managed to make that leading group.
150km to go
The leading group are now onto the four-star Briastre à Viesly section. A number of riders still have their arm warmers on, but they will be coming off pretty soon as the heat ramps up here at Paris-Roubaix.
153km to go
A huge posses of riders – Davide Ballerini (Astana), Cees Bol (Sunweb), Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe), Matti Breschel (EF Education First), Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Kamil Gradek (CCC Team), Marco Haller (Katusha Alpecin), Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ), Yves Lampaert (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Adrien Petit (Total Direct Energie), Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates), Nils Politt (Katusha Alpecin), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Renardt Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data) and Danny van Poppel (Jumbo-Visma) – have managed to bridge over to the leading group. Some big names in there and interesting to see to riders from Deceuninck-Quick Step presents.
Not too far away from the second section of the fay, sector 28.
Welcome to hell!
The leading nine-man group – Jorge Arcas (Movistar), Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Kris Boeckmans (Vital Concept-B&B Hotels), Frederik Frison (Lotto-Soudal), Damien Gaudin (Total-Direct Énergie), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Michael Van Staeyen (Roompot-Charles), Michael Schär (CCC Team) and Bert Van Lerberghe (Cofidis Solutions Crédits) – have hit sector one of cobbles, the 900 metre two-star stretch along Troisvilles à Inchy. They have a 40sec advantage over the bunch which has three Team Sky riders near the front.
167km to go
A group of around nine riders – including Damien Gaudin and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale) – have clipped off the front. Some crosswinds are causing minor echelons to form and the leading group are having to work hard for each metre of asphalt they are putting between themselves and the main bunch. We are just under 10km from the opening sector of cobbles, here's a breakdown of today's cobbled sections.
By the way, if you have not followed Paris-Roubaix before then the sectors are numbered in reverse order, so the first of the 29 sectors is section 29 while the final one, the 29th they will navigate their way over, is section one. Confusing, eh? One star is the 'easiest' while a five star section is the toughest.
Paris Roubaix for dummies ...
Nice little bit of animation here produced by race organisers ASO . . .
All back as one out on the road. They are just under 20km from the opening section of cobbles where it will be all about positioning. |The best position, of course, is on the front while nobody who is hoping to contest the win will want to be stuck behind any crashes.
So John, what makes this race so special?
I met up with 2015 winner John Degenkolb a while back and asked him this very question. This is what he said:
“For me these races are the most historic and the most traditional, especially Roubaix. It’s over a 100 years old on the same parcours – the same roads – literally. They have replaced a few cobblestones here and there, but the roads are basically the same as back in the 1800s. That’s what makes Paris-Roubaix so special, so unique. Even training there gives you a special feeling, riding into the Forest of Arenberg which is a very unique place.
“Since the beginning, when I started learning about cycling, I was in love with these races, especially Roubaix which I would say is my favourite. For me it was a childhood dream come true to win the race in 2015.
“That’s something I want to achieve again, to get another victory at Roubaix is, for me, the dream. From my heart, that’s the most important victory I ever got."
But how did you discover your love for the cobbles?
“At a certain moment in your career, while racing in the youth ranks, you do races on the cobbles and you soon discover if you like it. If you are a climber weighing 60kg, then you won’t have fun there. Obviously I weigh more than 60kg and it didn’t take long for me to discover I was made for the classics and the cobbles."
The history boy
The leading trio has increased its advantage out to a shade over 30 seconds, while further back an unidentified rider from the French Pro-Continental team Delko-Marseille Provence is putting in an effort in an attempt to bridge the gap. Incidentally, a little bit of history is being made today by that team who have Joseph Areruya riding for them.
Areruya today has become the first rider from Rwanda to compete at Paris-Roubaix. A big, big day for Rwandan cycling and, of course, for the 23-year-old.
200km to go
Mads Pedersen is back on the front and the Trek-Segafredo rider has been joined by Mads Wurtz Schmidt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Jürgen Roelandts (Movistar). The trio have a handful of seconds on the peloton. Despite riding into this cross headwind, the riders are making fairly good time today.
210km to go
The next rider to put his nose into the wind is Silvan Dillier (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the Swiss who last year finished second behind Peter Sagan. Incidentally, the road to Roubaix today is going into a headwind so any rider attempting to get into a breakaway will have to work a little harder than they would like.
First crash of the day . . .
Julien Vermote (Dimension Data) and Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) appear to have had a coming together. Not entirely sure what happened, but the two Belgians were just spotted picking themselves up off the asphalt. Nothing too serious, there will be much worse to follow once the riders hit the cobbles. Of that, I'm almost certain.
215km to go
Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) and Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates) have managed to chip their way off the front though have only managed to gain a handful of seconds. Pedersen, of course, finished second at last year's Tour of Flanders but was hugely disappointed with his performance a week ago. According to reports, the young Dane was so upset with his DNF he apologised to all of his team-mates and the backroom staff at his team. Today, I'm guessing, he's riding for John Degenkolb and Jasper Stuyven.
All smiles . . .
. . . from the 2017 winner Greg Van Avermaet who was just spotted giving the TV camera a wave while riding alongside CCC team-mate Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, who happens to be the grandson of 1963 road world champion Benoni Beheyt.
Speaking on Saturday, Van Avermaet admitted an outsider could win today, though still reckons Van Aert, Stybar and Sagan are the 'big favourites'.
“I’ve had a good race in Flanders (10th) and I’m very motivated to do well and have a good result in Roubaix,” the Belgian said.
“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.”
By the way, there will be one unfamiliar kit out on the road today. As had been reported in the French media in recent weeks, ProContinental team Direct Énergiebrought in a new title-sponsor and so are now called Total-Direct Énergie. They have ditched the black and yellow kit and adopted a blue and white kit with flashes of red, as modelled below at the start line in Compiègne.
Their leader, Niki Terpstra who won the race in 2014, is absent today after suffering a nasty looking crash at last week's Tour of Flanders. I fully expect Damien Gaudin to get involved in the action later . . . before fading in the final 50km.
By the way, Lennard Kämna (Sunweb) bridged over to Gruzdev before the pair were reined back in. Almost immediately and Magnus Cort (Astana) countered. A number of riders, though, closed down the Dane and with 230km remaining there is no lone leader or breakaway.
And we're off!
I know I said I was going to get this thing started at around 11am, but like Dmitriy Gruzdev (Astana) I cannot contain myself. This, for me, is the greatest bike race of the year and even though there's 240km of this race remaining, we may as well get stuck into it, eh? The Kazakhstan rider, by the way, has escaped off the front of the main bunch and is forging ahead. The 33-year-old who is starting his seventh Paris-Roubaix today leads by just 20sec after briefly holding an advantage of 30sec.
Who are the favourites for today's race?
A little bit like last week's Tour of Flanders, today appears to be a very open race. Throughout the spring classics there has been no one rider that has stood out above the others. True, Deceuninck-Quick Step have been the team of the year so far, but a couple of their riders have been suffering with illness of late and so we will have to wait to see how that impacts on their hopes today. That said, here's a quick run down on some of the riders I expect to be in the mix today . . .
Best result: Winner (2018)
Despite having failed to finish on the podium in a single one-day race this season, the reigning champion is here today as one of the favourites. Following a bout of illness, the three-time world champion has been inching back, but appears a little way off his best. That said, he finished alongside many of the pre-race favourites at Flanders after outsider Alberto Bettiol had ghosted his way to victory. Sagan was unable to find co-operation in the chase, though clearly felt he had the legs to give it a crack. After his huge turn on the front the previous week at Ghent-Wevelgem now could be the time for him to show why, despite any obvious signs, he remains the bookies' favourite.
Best result: Winner (2015)
"To get another victory at Roubaix is, for me, the dream," the 2015 winner told Telegraph Sport the end of last year. A year ago the idea of the popular German winning another Paris-Roubaix title may have seemed fanciful, but recent performances would suggest the 30-year-old is nearing something like the form he enjoyed four years ago.
Greg Van Avermaet
Best result: Winner (2017)
Despite having not win a cobbled classic since 2017, podium finishes at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 and a top-10 finish at the Tour of Flanders would suggest a big win could be in the post for the veteran Belgian. Will need to keep his cool and ride a little more cleverly than he did at Omloop if he is to pull off a repeat of his victory here in 2017.
Team: Deceuninck-Quick Step
Nationality: Czech Republic
Best result: Runner-up (2015, 2017)
Along with team-mates Kasper Asgreen, Philippe Gilbert, Yves Lampaert, Florian Sénéchal, the former cyclo-cross world champion is one of many strong cards available to the under-pressure Deceuninck-Quick Step. Having won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 arrives in great form, but will Lady Luck smile upon him when it matters most?
Team: UAE Team Emirates
Age: 31 Best result: Ninth (2013)
It may seem odd to discover that Kristoff has yet to stand on the podium at Paris-Roubaix, but after rolling back the years during the spring classics, the big Norwegian was this week tipped by Johan Museeuw to lift his first plinth-mounted cobble. Has showed excellent form with a win at Ghent-Wevelgem and third at the Tour of Flanders.
Wout Van Aert
Best result: 13th (2018)
Along with Mathieu van der Poel, the former world cyclo-cross champion has been an absolute revelation in his first season with a WorldTour squad. Has proved himself on all terrains and across all distances with two podium finishes – at Strade Bianche and E3 – this season and finished in the main group at the Tour of Flanders.
Team: Ag2r-La Mondiale
Best result: 12th (2018)
Whether tackling the cobbles, getting over the Poggio or sitting on the wheels of the bigger heavier sprinters, Naesen has been there or thereabouts at the business end of proceedings throughout the spring classics. Team-mate Silvan Dillier finished second last year which may be a card the Ag2r-La Mondiale directors are able to play on the road.
Welcome: the calm before the storm
Morning everybody and welcome to our live rolling blog from today's Paris-Roubaix, the 117th edition of the race nicknamed the Hell of the North.
Whether or not Paris-Roubaix is the toughest one-day race in the world of cycling remains a moot point, particularly if you are Belgian, but is is certainly one of the most evocative.
Possibly one of the most unique races in world cycling due to the extensive sections of pavé, or cobblestones, that pepper the course, The Hell of the North can be decided as much by luck and bravery as tactical acumen.
Following Milan-Sanremo and last weekend's Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix is the third monument of the season – the other two being Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
Despite its title, the race no longer departs from the French capital after organisers, in 1968, moved the start line to the town of Compiègne, around 60km north of Paris.
Unsurprisingly, Paris-Roubaix had been dominated by the Belgians who have won 56 of the 116 editions. France has had 28 victories.
No British rider has ever won the race, though three have stood on the third step of the podium – Barry Hoban (1972), Roger Hammond (2004) and Ian Stannard (2016).
At 257 kilometres it is long and with 29 sections of cobblestones covering a distance of 54.5km, roughly a fifth of the total distance raced, it is a race that could only have ever been conceived of in 1896. The health and safety suits – even the French ones – would have heart attacks if the concept of Paris-Roubaix was handed to them in 2018.
In the meantime, why don't you go make yourself a brew and have a browse through our package of big-race preview content ...
As with all WorldTour races, each of the 18 teams that make up the top-flight of professional cycling receive an invite and in the case of the Ronde all teams are contracted to race.
In addition to the WorldTour teams, race organisers ASO handed wildcard spots to seven Pro-Continental teams – Arkéa-Samsic, Cofidis Solutions Crédits, Delko-Marseille Provence, Direct Énergie, Roompot-Charles, Vital Concept-B&B Hotels and Wanty-Groupe Gobert.
While we are waiting for the real racing to get under way, have a listen to the latest episode of The Cycling Podcast in which the team pick over the bones from last Sunday's thriller in Flanders before, of course, discussing today's race . . .
Richard Moore, Lionel Birnie and Daniel Friebe produce these rather excellent podcasts throughout the season covering the one-day races, stage races and grand tours and get this: they're free. Obviously, it would be better if you gave them some money so to do that, make sure you sign up – for just £15– and become a Friend of the Podcast.
Right folks, while you digest the above information I'm off to grab a coffee and a croissant. The live blog 'proper' will be getting under way at around 11am – the riders then should be about 50km from the opening sector of cobbles at Troisvilles à Inchy