10 riders to watch at the men's Paris-Roubaix

From the sensible pick of Mathieu van der Poel to the romantic choice of John Degenkolb, here's our in-depth look at the contenders for the Hell of the North

Clock16:26, Friday 5th April 2024
Mads Pedersen, Mathieu van der Poel, and Josh Tarling are among our riders to watch for Paris-Roubaix

© Getty Images

Mads Pedersen, Mathieu van der Poel, and Josh Tarling are among our riders to watch for Paris-Roubaix

Paris-Roubaix is one of the most unpredictable major races on the calendar, with strong legs needed to win one of the most gruelling tests in professional cycling but also a heavy dose of luck.

As such, the list of potential contenders is always wide open, and that's the case once again this year.

We do have one outstanding favourite, but we've seen so many surprise packages at Roubaix over the years that you can't really count anyone out.

Here, we pick out 10 riders - some favourites, some dark horses - who could be in with a shout of lifting the famous cobblestone trophy inside the Roubaix velodrome on Sunday afternoon.

Read more:

Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck)

There’s no doubt that Mathieu van der Poel is the undisputed favourite for Paris-Roubaix. He’s the recent winner of E3 Saxo Classic and the Tour of Flanders, while he also played a pivotal role in setting up a teammate to win Milan-San Remo just a few weeks ago. He is the best one-day rider in the world, and when he’s on song he’s as close to unbeatable as you can imagine. That said, he’s still human, and bad luck, poor judgement and other riders on better days can all change the outcome of a race - just as Mads Pedersen did at Gent-Wevelgem. The fact also remains that we’ve seen favourites unravel on the cobbles before.

Back in 2011, Fabian Cancellara was on another level. He obliterated the field to win E3, coming back from a bike change to blow through two breakaway groups in quick succession. It was unreal. But his dominance was also his downfall, and despite herculean efforts in Flanders and then Roubaix, he was effectively marked out of contention by teams that had done their homework. Nick Nuyens and Johan Vansummeren won the cobbled Monuments that spring, which perhaps provides another blueprint on how to stop Van der Poel.

In Roubaix, perhaps more than Flanders, momentum and dominance can quickly shift, especially when the parcours is littered with obstacles and literal potholes. Whatever happens on Sunday, Van der Poel will be central to the outcome of the race. The odds are stacked his his favour - that’s true - and while he has the tea and the form to seal another win, it doesn’t mean that the race is a forgone conclusion.

Read more: Mathieu van der Poel – 'Alpecin-Deceuninck are at our strongest in Paris-Roubaix'

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck)

The only team to have two riders on our list, Alpecin-Deceuninck have the strongest Classics squad in the men’s peloton right now. Lild-Trek run them close but when you win two straight Monuments, in which the best one-day rider in the world plays super domestique in the first one, you have something extra over your rivals. There’s massive depth to the roster too but Philipsen is the perfect foil for Van der Poel’s likely strategy of going hard and going long.

The Belgian can sit back, allow rivals to wear each other out and then pop up in a small group for the sprint victory should the race come back together. The Milan-San Remo winner will also know that victory in Paris-Roubaix will also nudge his value up substantially as looks for a new contract in 2025. Alpecin-Deceuninck have the best one-two punch for the race and it’s simply a question of who’s left standing if they get their combinations right.

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek)

The Dane may have wilted in the latter stages of the Tour of Flanders but his performance last Sunday was exceptional. There’s simply nothing more inspiring in pro cycling than watching a rider throw caution to the wind and go down swinging when the odds are heavily stacked against them. In truth, it was probably the best tactic Pedersen could have played, too, given his bandaged limbs following the Dwars door Vlaanderen crash but, with a week of recovery, and his form still intact, the former world champion should be counted among the top favourites.

His record in the race until last year’s fourth place had been poor but, with a well-built team of Classics riders to rely on, the Danish star and his American squad have the quality to stretch Van der Poel to the limit. If they can isolate the favourite like they did in Gent-Wevelgem, we could be in for another epic battle. Van der Poel definitely won’t want to sprint against Pedersen on the velodrome.

Nils Politt (UAE Team Emirates)

The German has been second before and he’s exactly the sort of rider who could benefit from a moment of hesitation or a miscalculation from the leading favourites. Runner-up at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, seventh in E3, and third in the Tour of Flanders demonstrates his current shape and confidence, and while he’s not been the most aggressive of riders this spring, he’s been present and accounted for when required, and rarely put a foot wrong.

The versatile German has struggled for results in the Classics since that breakout campaign in 2019 but he’s clearly in form. Keep an eye on Mikkel Bjerg, too, who is a sneaky bet for the podium.

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ)

A crash in the Tour of Flanders derailed the Swiss rider’s challenge and he returns to Paris-Roubaix with his Classics campaign in need of a result that would reward his ever-present consistency. Third in Dwars door Vlaanderen was fine but Küng has been knocking on the door of world-class status for several years now without really breaking through. He needs that one Monument-level victory on which he can truly rest his career.

Paris-Roubaix arguably suits him better than the Tour of Flanders, and Groupama-FDJ - even without Laurence Pithie - are loaded with decent support riders. Luck will have to be a factor, but Küng has the engine to forge his way to the podium.

John Degenkolb (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL)

If we were compiling a list of the 10 most likely riders to win Paris-Roubaix, then Degenkolb might not have made it but we’re hopeless romantics here at GCN and there probably wouldn’t be a more popular winner than the veteran German, who at 35 only has one or two more trips to the velodrome in him.

He has been flying under the radar this year, marshalling Fabio Jakobsen’s lead-out train most of the time, but 12 months ago he was in phenomenal form before a late crash ended his chances of victory. That he still managed to finish seventh illustrated his competitiveness, and left us all wondering what might have been.

It’s been nine years since his Paris-Roubaix win, six since his victory on the cobbles at the Tour de France, but few, if anyone, would begrudge him a fairytale ending on the cobbled roads his career is so entwined with.

Kasper Asgreen (Soudal Quick-Step)

Patrick Lefevere’s old Classics adage of waiting until after Liege-Bastogne-Liege before judging his team’s spring looks a little shakier after Remco Evenepoel was ruled out for the Ardennes, and it puts even more emphasis on Paris-Roubaix for a team that’s still measured by previous cobbled success.

Tim Merlier has been a bright spark for the team during a lean spell in Belgium over the last few months but Yves Lampaert or Kasper Asgreen look like far more accomplished challengers for Sunday. The Dane is a winner at Flanders but has never actually performed on the cobbles of France, while Lampaert has cracked the top five twice and the podium once. Either rider winning would be a huge surprise at this point in the season but the team were so off the pace in Flanders that they also head into Roubaix with very little pressure on their shoulders. That might mean they can anticipate the late attacks.

We’ve selected Asgreen for our list – he’s out of contract and needs a result to bolster his value over the coming months as he looks to find new terms.

Read more: Kasper Asgreen – It's 'difficult, not impossible' to beat Mathieu van der Poel at Paris-Roubaix

Christophe Laporte (Visma-Lease a Bike)

The Visma-Lease a Bike team would be forgiven for wanting to draw a line under the cobbled Classics and move on, such has been their terrible luck over the last few weeks but Paris-Roubaix gives them one more shot at finally winning that cobbled Monument and ticking a box they’ve had in their sights for two years. The ranks are truly depleted though.

Wout van Aert is recuperating, Matteo Jorgenson is out after Flanders, and Jan Tratnik is missing too. What’s left is a reliable gaggle of domestiques but not a single team leader in form. Dylan Van Baarle is an obvious candidate based on his previous win in the race but he’s been short of his best condition due to illnesses in recent weeks, and Christophe Laporte hasn’t raced since posting a DNF at Milan-San Remo.

Logic dictates that Van Baarle should get the nod for this list but the fact is we’ve seen his recent level and it’s not moved the needle suggests that Laporte is the more interesting prospect. His condition is an unknown having not raced in weeks but time will tell as to what that truly means.

Ivan Cortina (Movistar)

Oier Lazkano has been one of the revelations of the Spring Classics but we’ve plumped for his teammate Ivan Cortina, who was flying at the Tour of Flanders before an untimely mechanical struck just as Van der Poel hit the afterburners. Cortina hasn’t troubled the top 20 in the race despite six starts, which probably tells us quite a lot about his chances for Sunday, but he’s also an unpredictable rider who blows hot and cold at times. He clearly has the condition and the experience to make a difference but he firmly goes in the dark horse section.

Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers)

Rising star Josh Tarling is set to end his one-day schedule at Paris-Roubaix before ramping up on stage races and the Olympic Games later in the year. It’s been a solid couple of weeks for the young British rider, with a top-10 and a top-20, the latter coming in Flanders last weekend.

He has huge untapped potential and goes into his second Monument of the year with little pressure on his shoulders but he’s the perfect rider for an early break and a potential candidate to use that move as a launchpad for later in the race. Half the field will have the same mindset, and it might be a bit too soon to expect a performance from the 20-year-old, but he’s worth watching as the race plays out.

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