Roubaix favorite Sagan braces for wet, muddy race

Only two riders in the current peloton have raced a Paris-Roubaix in wet and muddy conditions, which last occurred in 2002.

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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) took a preview Thursday of the hell that lies in store for Sunday.

Forecasts have changed for Paris-Roubaix and there is now a chance for wet and muddy conditions, which would create the first rainy and wet Roubaix in a generation.

“For sure it’s going to change the style of the race if it’s wet. Wet is more dangerous,” Sagan told reporters before the start of a recon ride. “It also depends on the wind.”

Like nearly every pro in the peloton, Sagan — who was born in 1990 — has never raced Roubaix in muddy and wet conditions. The last editions of the race to feature weather like that were in 2001 and 2002. Since then, dry and warmer conditions have dominated.

Only two riders in the current peloton have raced a Paris-Roubaix in wet conditions: 2015 champion Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie). Even Trek-Segafredo’s Gregor Rast, who has started 50 monuments during his long career, did not debut in Roubaix until 2003. [related title=”More on Paris-Roubaix” align=”left” tag=”Paris-Roubaix”]

“We have a whole generation of riders who have never raced [Roubaix] in the rain,” said Sky sport director and 2001 Roubaix winner Servais Knaven. “Riders today won’t know how the wet pavé feels under their tires. It’s a different feeling. Of course, if it rains, they will have to learn quickly.”

Riders competing in the 2014 Tour de France, including Sagan and others starting Sunday, experienced harrowing conditions in a cobbled stage won by Lars Boom.

Sagan and his teammates rode about two hours Thursday over the second half of the Paris-Roubaix course to get a taste of what’s to come. Some of the sectors were wet and muddy, which gave riders a chance to feel the slick cobbles.

“I never saw conditions like this for Roubaix,” said Bora-Hansgrohe’s Marcus Burghardt. “The cobbles are wet and with a lot of mud, so it’s very slippery. If it stays like this, we can expect a really tough race.”

Forecasters are calling for mostly sunny skies Friday and Saturday, so that means most of the cobblestone sectors that were muddy during recon will likely dry out. There is a chance of showers overnight Saturday and going into Sunday morning, however, so the first half of Roubaix could be raced under grimy conditions. The first cobbles do not arrive until Troisville, with about 94 kilometers to go, so if it’s not raining by the race gun, there is time for the course to dry up considerably.

Wind is always a factor in Roubaix, and strong southerly gusts of up to 30 kph are expected to kick up as the course nears the Roubaix velodrome. That also means the final hour of racing could see drier conditions than what the peloton may see in the morning.

Bora was among a half dozen or so teams who hit the decisive sectors of the cobblestones Thursday for one final dress rehearsal before Sunday’s big fight over the pavé. More teams will ride on the course Friday.

“We rode the last 14 sectors of the race,” Burghardt said. “These are the most important sectors of the race. You go to make one last test of the material, and bring back the memory of the course. It’s important to remember when you turn right, turn left before the next cobblestone section.”

Dry or wet, the pressure is on Sagan and Co. to try to break the Quick-Step Floors code Sunday.

So far, their Belgian rivals have dominated the cobblestoned classics. Sagan won Gent-Wevelgem out of a reduced bunch sprint, but Quick-Step has confounded Sagan and the other top favorites consistently across the other races.

“There are more teams in the race than just Bora and Quick-Step. We have to figure it out during the race,” Sagan said. “I don’t want to say I know what is happening Sunday.”

Despite having never finished on the Roubaix podium, many bookies have Sagan leading the betting odds.

Other riders have had better results — including defending champion Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) and 2014 winner Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step), who looks strong — but perhaps those odds reflect Sagan’s stature in the peloton. He simply is a favorite in every race he starts (with a big target in the shape of the rainbow jersey on his back).

Sagan has a mixed Roubaix record. Of his six starts, he notched a career-best sixth in 2014 when he rode in with the group of favorites behind the attacking Terpstra. He failed to finish in his 2010 debut.

“I am not living with the hope. I don’t like to hope,” Sagan said. “With the feeling, I don’t know. I don’t feel bad, but I don’t feel really amazing. Cold weather? It’s OK. Freezing experience!”

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