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Pardon the pun but this Spring Cobbled Classics season has been truly classic and this weekend, it reaches its crescendo with Paris-Roubaix.
This season has been highlighted by fireworks and firepower on both sides of the pro peloton.
Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel are seemingly in a two-way battle for Classics supremacy while SD-Worx Women’s Team has been claiming the top two spots at virtually every race they’ve entered this spring with Lotte Kopecky, Demi Vollering, and Lorena Wiebes bringing home the most hardware.
Heading into Roubaix, there have been a couple fantastic moments in the lead up races that are worth mentioning.
At Gent-Wevelgem, Jumbo-Visma teammates Christophe Laporte and Wout van Aertfinished first and second following their decisive two-man breakaway with 50k to go. In the closing kilometers, van Aert decided his teammate should take the victory. After all, van Aert won the E3 Saxo Bank Classic two days earlier and he already has a Gent-Wevelgem win on his palmarès, so to him it made perfect sense that his teammate should take the victory.
That terrific sporting gesture did not sit well with cycling’s old guard and the Belgian press was sent into a tizzy. Legends Eddy Merckx, Tom Boonen, and Johan Museeuw all decried van Aert’s decision and that he’d regret leaving that win off his palmarès when his career winds down. To me though, what van Aert did is just another sign that the new generation of the peloton isn’t as ego driven as their predecessors and more than anything they just love racing bikes.
Which leads to…
Tadej Pogaćar becoming the first cyclist in the modern era to win both the Tour de France and The Tour of Flanders.
Pogaćar joined the peloton for Flanders last Sunday and in the process joined Eddy Merckx and Louison Bobet as the only cyclists to achieve the feat. In a shocking twist, Pogaćar admitted to adding a few kilos to his racing weight to better handle the cobbles and handle them he did. Pogaćar put on a ride for the ages as he soloed to victory 16 seconds ahead of van der Poel and put over a minute on van Aert and the rest of the chase group which was a who’s who of Classics contenders.
Like van Aert’s “gift,” Pogaćar’s victory wasn’t a flex of his ego to let the peloton know a two-time Tour de France winner can jump in and win Classics race anytime he feels like it. Rather, it was a celebration of his love for cycling. With his win at Flanders, Pogaćar has now won three of cycling’s five Monuments and while he won’t be entering Paris-Roubaix this year as his focus now turns to the Tour, it won’t be surprising when he eventually joins Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck and Rik van Looy as the only cyclists to ever win all five.
Paris-Roubaix Femmes - Saturday, April 8th
The third edition of the Women’s Paris-Roubaix will be covering a 145.4km (87.25 miles) course that will follow the final 85km of the Men’s route and include 17 sectors of cobblestones. Barring a catastrophic accident, this is SD-Worx’s race to lose; their roster is simply too deep. However, if you’re looking for an upset Annemiek van Vleuten, Elisa Longo Borghini, or Kasia Niewiadoma could be the ones to pull off the seemingly impossible.
Paris-Roubaix Hommes - Sunday, April 9th
The Men’s route for 2023 measures out to 256.6km (154 miles) and features 29 sectors of cobblestones that promise to bring some mayhem to the peloton. Based on how Classics season has been going, it’s virtually a coin flip between van der Poel and van Aert hoisting the cobbled trophy at the Roubaix Velodrome, but anything can happen during the race. Mads Pedersen has been in the hunt all spring, Dylan van Baarle (last year's winner) is a worthy wingman to van Aert, and Stefan Küng of Grupama-FDJ who was on the podium in 2022 has been coming on strong in recent weeks and was in that stacked chase group at Flanders.
Weather Report: Partly cloudy skies and temps in the upper 50s are going to make for perfect racing weather. However, showers that started Wednesday are expected to continue through Friday and could make the 29 cobbled sectors a little more adventurous if they don’t dry out before the racing begins.
How to Watch: This weekend alone promises to be worth trying out a subscription to the Global Cycling Network. It’s $8.99 a month, you can cancel at any time, and the coverage is absolutely top tier. However, if you already subscribe to Peacock, you can catch both the Women’s and Men’s races there.