Based on the published route for the postponed 2020 edition of this race, we can expect 17 sectors of cobbles within the 116km route, including five-star sectors such as the Carrefour de l'Arbre. It will be arguably more challenging than any one-day race the women’s peloton will face this season. Since we have not yet seen a race that presents this calibre of cobbled terrain, the favourites are a little harder to call.
If SD Worx can continue their dominance, they will be the team to watch. Their strength is certainly in numbers: they are able to populate the front of the race when it really matters, so much so that they have options when it comes to deciding who will be their designated leader. Van der Breggen is surely the favorite for a long-range attack but should we see a small group come into the Roubaix velodrome, riders with a track background like Jolien d’Hoore could challenge in a fast sprint.
The technical demands of a race like Roubaix could also lend itself to some of the cyclo-cross specialists. For team Jumbo Visma, Marianne Vos is very well suited to the Hell of the North. Supported by the likes of Anna Henderson and Jip van den Bos who have both shown their skills in cobbled races such as Le Samyn, the former multiple world champion will be out to ruffle the feathers of SD Worx.
Lucinda Brand is another rider who has a great technical ability. She is coming from a hugely successful winter of cyclo-cross and she is no stranger to the cobbles, winning Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in 2017. She forms part of a strong Trek Segafredo line-up, including the dynamic duo of Lizzie Deignan and Elisa Longo Borghini, who showed incredible tactical prowess in races late last year. Twice winner of Dwars door Vlannderen Ellen van Dijk will also be an asset on the cobbles to this team, be it in a supporting or leadership role.
Double Belgian champion Lotte Kopecky has proved her ability to consistently produce results and with a fast finish: she isn’t someone you want to take with you to the velodrome. Perhaps the only thing that will hamper Kopecky’s campaign is her team’s smaller presence. She is going to have to ride smart if she finds herself isolated in a group, outnumbered by the likes of SD Worx.
The revelation of the early season classics, Emma Norsgaard of Movistar will be able to take a lot of confidence going into Roubaix. The team’s signing of Annemiek van Vlueten made headlines, but Norsgaard’s second places in both Omloop and Le Samyn have put her firmly in contention for a leadership role moving into the rest of the Classics season. Roubaix is perhaps not a course best suited to van Vlueten’s strengths, but with her palmares, we can certainly never count her out.
Team DSM will be looking to improve on a fairly lacklustre season opening. If she can make it, the finish is perfectly suited to their sprinter Lorena Wiebes, although winner of the Lotto Belgium Tour in 2018, Liane Lippert will likely lead the team.
As an outside bet, Marlen Reusser of Ale BTC Ljubljana is certainly suited to the hard and arduous nature of the Paris Roubaix course, as is Ceratizit-WNT’s Elizabeth Banks. Hannah Barnes of Canyon SRAM Racing can also produce a good sprint from a reduced bunch.
The openness and unpredictability of this race is what makes it such an exciting proposition and a welcome addition to the Women’s WorldTour calendar.