The epic classic Paris-Roubaix is only 45 days away and the race organizers have finalized the 25 teams selected as well as the 2017 route. The final team selection, announced this week, includes all of the World Tour teams as well as seven invited teams.
Not surprisingly, in addition to AG2R and FDJ, France’s non-World Tour teams, Cofidis, Direct Energie, Fortuneo-Vital Concept as well as Delko-Marseille Provence-KTM also made the cut while Belgian teams Wanty-Groupe Gobert and Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise and Holland’s Roompo Nerderlands Loterij also were invited.
Such formalities followed the unveiling of the 2017 race route, which, in keeping with the race’s tradition, offers several modifications for this year. Of course mythic cobblestone sections like Troisvilles, the Arenberg Forest, Mon-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre will likely define the race, but several new or renewed sections will be present come April, 9.
Shortly after the opening section of cobbles in Troisvilles the riders will return to two unfamiliar sections in Briastre and Solesmes that the race has not covered in 30 years. The first section is three kilometers long while the second section, while shorter, is uphill. “Our goal is not to make the race harder at this point, but to add variety so that these places continue to feed the tradition” say race director Thierry Gouvenou, himself a top-10 finisher in Roubaix.
As a result, the riders will cover roughly two kilometers more of cobblestones this year, but that should not change the race dramatically. No, count on the riders and the classic cobble sections to define.
This year’s Hell of the North will be highlighted by four-time winner Tom Boonen, who has announced that he will retire, regardless of his result this year, at the after the finish on vélodrome in Roubaix. “I really wanted to stop on the track in Roubaix. Even if the result is not there. Roubaix is where I was born as a rider,” Boonen told Peloton in a recent conversation. “And Roubaix is where I am going to stop as a rider.”
Boonen also said that his best day on a bike came at Roubaix during his 2012 victory. “I could have done anything that day!”
If Boonen will have another unbeatable day is yet to be seen and there will be plenty of riders hoping to deter him like last year’s winner Mathew Hayman or 2015 winner John Degenkold. The German, who now riders for Trek-Segafredo will be returning after an injury-marred early-season destroyed his classics campaign last year.
But Boonen promises to be more motivated than ever. Second last year in a close sprint with Hayman on the vélodrome, the 36-year-old Belgian knows that this is his last opportunity to become the race’s first five-time winner. He already has one victory this year at the Tour of San Juan. And he is hoping it will not be his last.