Saturday, 8 April 2017

The hardest one day race of the season for juniors finally arrived. Just a few hours before we are going to watch Tom Boonen's final race, young riders will tackle the same cobbled sectors in their own battle for glory.


History

Paris Roubaix Juniors has a pretty short history with first edition dating back in 2003 but it's a big event with impressive list of past winners (just to name a few: Geraint Thomas, Guillame van Keirsbulck, Jasper Stuyven or Florian Senechal with Sagan, Debusschere and Demare all finishing second in different editions). Since 2008 junior version of cobbled classic is a part of UCI Nations Cup meaning we will have national teams instead of club teams at the start in Saint Amand les Eaux. This is also a guarantee that we have the strongest possible lineup as all invited teams will bring the strongest possible, in form, team to be competitive and have a chance to fight for a win. In the last two editions we saw impressive performances by Dutch riders. Both in 2015 and 2016 their riders finished first and second here with Bram Welten winning in 2015 and Jarno Mobach last year.

Jarno Mobach won solo last year (photo: Mathilde L'Azou)
Route

The route is pretty much the same as last year. Juniors will cover 111 kilometers from Saint Amand les Eaux to Roubaix facing sixteen cobbled sectors. Mostly the same ones as last sixteen in elite race. So actually the only difference between elite and junior race is the distance as the crucial cobbled sections are pretty much the same. The juniors will tackle total of 28,9km of cobbles.

Favorites

Since 2008 and second place by Peter Sagan, only six countries managed to place their rider on podium in Paris Roubaix Juniors: France, Belgium, Great Britain, Denmark, Netherlands and USA. This shows how important is to be part of strong team and be able to stay in front on crucial cobbled sections. Also shows how difficult the race is as those six countries are probably the strongest nations in youth racing.

Denmark has won three editions in row between 2012 and 2014 and they can definitely aim for a win tomorrow having won two important junior races this year with two different riders. Ludvig Anton Wacker, recent winner of Gent Wevelgem should be one of their leaders together with Johan Langballe who won Kuurne Brussels Kuurne earlier this year and Mathias Larsen who was already nineteenth in Roubaix last year and should be able to improve as second year junior. Danes are missing their biggest prospect in my opinion, Julius Johansen but he's aiming for track World Champs in HK and couldn't mix it with road racing and Roubaix.

I have asked Ludvig Wacker about the course and possible rivals:
We are going for a reckon this Friday, two days before the race and we will try the first three cobbled sectors, and try out tire pressure. I think the course looks extremely tough, and I am sure that it will be very stressful and unpredictable. So it is all about being up front. I think the first cobble sector will be very crucial for the whole race, and of course Carrefour de l'Arbre, as the decisive one. Well, guys from The Netherlands has won the last two editions, and looks strong again, but also the Italians and Belgians will be guys to look out for. The Belgians has rode hundreds of races on these kind of roads, they looked strong at The Tour of Flanders.

Belgium brings very strong team with Wesley Vercamst eighth recently in Guido Reybrouck Classic and sixth in Ronde Van Vlaanderen and is looking for his first big win of the year. Last year, Wercamst finished fourteenth in Roubaix. Second option for Belgium should be Arne Marit, winner of Nokere Koerse and fifth last week in Ronde. Other options could be Sebastien Grignard and Ward Vanhoff, both having finished in top ten in cobbled classics this season.

American team brings youth to Roubaix as three of their riders are first year juniors and I'm curious to see what they can bring in such a big race as Roubaix. Sean McElroy will lead the team and should be able to easily  improve his last year's 55th place. Also, keep en eye on Liam Flanagan, he can surprise many this year.

The obvious favorite, as in every classic in junior races, is Tom Pidcock, current cyclocross world champion who, after a short break, came back quiet successfully to road racing with fifth place in Gudio Reybrouck Classic and eleventh in Gent Wevelgem plus winning the opening race of British junior series. If nothing bad happens, he's the man to beat for Sunday (not the first time this year). He can expect a strong support from his team mates, especially Fred Wright and Joe Nally, who was eleventh in Roubaix last year.

French team is packed with talent and I would expect them to try control the race. Maxime Bonsergent, winner of Bernaudeau Junior is one of the guys to watch, together with Florentin Lecamus who won Trophée Louison Bobet this season and already know how to ride in Roubaix as he finished twelve last year. Donovan Grondin is another interesting name in French team as he had some impressive results in U17 category and already won Route d'Eole this year with also seventh place in Bernaudeau Junior.

Last but not least in the Dutch team who will try to defend their win from last year. The obvious leader should be Maikel Zijlaard who has just won Ronde Van Vlaanderen and finished sixth in Guido Reybrouck Classic but Dutch team brings other strong riders who may surprise with Daan Hoole, Vincent Hoppezak and Tom Peters.

Other names to watch: Niklas Markl, Richard Holec, Matus Stocek, Michele Gazzoli, Samuele Manfredi, Nik Cemezar, Alex Vogel

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