Paris-Roubaix 2024: preview, contenders and prediction

Can any rider put a stop to Mathieu van der Poel's dominance?

It’s difficult to determine or quantify what the ‘hardest’ race in cycling is. Some will find the demands of climbing the highest and steepest of mountains at the Grand Tours the most challenging; others, the length and sheer relentlessness of the up and down parcours of a Monument like the Tour of Flanders, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, or Il Lombardia. But when polled, often it’s Paris-Roubaix that comes out on top, with its incomparably horrible cobbled roads that sees dozens of abandonments every year, earning itself the nickname Hell of the North.

As well as being arguably the hardest race, it certainly has a case for being the most idiosyncratic. Despite being ostensibly the last leg of the cobbled or northern Classics of the spring, it bears little in common with the races that precede it. It takes place in France rather than Belgium, therefore covering a whole different landscape and roads than those that are regularly repeated in the Flemish Classics. And the nature of the cobblestone is also very different, with these being more roughly surfaced and entirely on flat roads, as opposed to the short and smoother bursts of the Belgian bergs. Even things like the fact that each of the 29 sectors of pavé are listed in reverse numerical order, as if to mentally countdown to the end of the misery, and the unique velodrome finish at Roubaix, given the race a rare retro feel that distinguishes it from every other.

All this is what makes Paris-Roubaix so special, and possibly the best day of racing of the whole year. It was sorely missed in the spring when Covid forced it to be cancelled in 2020 and delayed in 2021, and is now to be relished once more. 


There are 29 sectors of pavé in total, but all the talk before the race has been about one: the Arenberg Forest. Earlier this week it was announced that a chicane would be added prior to the entry into the forest in order to try to minimise the chances of crashes, a last-minute decision that has caused controversy and split riders in opposing camps: some against it, like race favourite Mathieu van der Poel, who tweeted, “Is this a joke?” in response to the news, while others such as Matteo Jorgenson came out in support of the change and welcoming the prioritising of rider safety. Whether or not the alteration will improve safety is the question, although the reasoning is that, though crashes are still a firm possibility, they are more likely to occur on the less dangerous tarmac section on the run-in to the forest rather than on the cobblestones themselves. 

All this attention shows just how important and intense a moment in the race the Arenberg Forest is, and what happens here generally shapes the remaining 95km and 18 sectors of pavé that follow it. Bad positioning, mechanical, or, indeed, a crash can end a favourite’s chances here, given the lack of respite in its aftermath as more cobbled sectors come thick and fast. Seven sectors ranked between three and four stars follow it before Mons-en-Pévèle, the five-star sector which is often used as a springboard for race-winning moves. If the race is still in play after that, then the Carrefour de l'Arbre becomes decisive — as was the case last year, when Wout van Aert’s attack was scuppered by a puncture, allowing Van der Poel to ride the remaining 15km and three sectors and into the Roubaix velodrome alone for victory. 


Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) 

Van der Poel goes into this weekend on the cusp of making all sorts of history. Were he to win Paris-Roubaix, he’d become the first man in 11 years, and only the 11th man in history to complete the esteemed Tour of Flanders/Paris-Roubaix double, and would also extend his career Monument tally to six, putting him in the top 16 of all time. His domineering form this spring, which has seen him either win, help a teammate win, or finish second in all four of his race days so far, make him the overwhelming favourite — perhaps even more so than he was going into the Tour of Flanders, which he ended up winning by over a minute, never really looking as though he wouldn’t end up victorious. We’re witnessing something special with the Dutchman at the moment, and it’d take a very brave punter to be against him winning yet again. 

Mathieu van der Poel on his way to Flanders victory (Image by Francesco Rachello/

Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek)

His tactical wisdom might have been questioned, but the fact Mads Pedersen had the power in his legs to launch such an early attack during the Tour of Flanders, and then lead the chase (albeit temporarily) of Van der Poel, at least suggests he isn’t suffering from his crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen. With his recovery and form now less of a concern, he may opt to ride Paris-Roubaix in a more restrained, sensible manner, and if he can get his tactics right then he is one of the few riders capable of competing with Van der Poel — as was the case at Gent-Wevelgem, where he became the only man this spring to get the better of him by defeating him in a two-up sprint. 

Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) 

Though lacking a standout finish besides his third place at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Stefan Küng has still enjoyed a reliable enough spring to suggest that he will be among the favourites for Paris-Roubaix. This is, after all, the race he excels at the most, having finished third and fifth the past two editions, and he is one of the best equipped riders for tackling the cobblestones. His problem will, as ever, be trying to find a way to win despite his lack of a sprint finish, something he has come close to succeeding in major Classics in the past, but never quite pulling off. 

Küng in last year's edition of Paris-Roubaix (Image by James Startt)

Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost)

Despite being a regular at most of the cobbled Classics, and a winner of the Tour of Flanders in 2019, Alberto Bettiol has never before braved Paris-Roubaix. He is the most intriguing debutant of 2024, especially given he’s riding with what is arguably the form of his life, what with his mighty victory at Milano-Torino, career-high fifth-place finish at Milan-Sanremo, and strong ride at the Tour of Flanders that saw him come just metres away from sealing a podium finish. His lack of experience here means we can’t really know what to expect, but the ceiling for such a talented rider is undoubtedly high. 

Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) 

While most riders suffer due to the strength of Mathieu van der Poel, his teammates benefit, as Jasper Philipsen found when he was guided by his Dutch teammate to victory at Milan-Sanremo. The two will again work together at Paris-Roubaix, expressing how they believe that both are candidates for victory, and will improvise tactics depending on how the race unfolds. Philipsen proved himself more than capable of rising to the demands of the cobblestones here last year when he finished second place, so is certainly a contender to become the first man since John Degenkolb nine years ago to achieve the Milan-Sanremo/Paris-Roubaix double. 

Philipsen came third in last year's Paris-Roubaix (Image by

Other contenders

As one of the surprise packages at the Tour of Flanders, where they placed three riders in the top five, UAE Team Emirates have plenty of strength-in-depth in their Paris-Roubaix line-up. Mikkel Bjerg and 20-year-old António Morgado were the most surprising names of those three, and Nils Politt may have the status as team leader given his superior experience, as a runner-up finisher here in 2019. Luca Mozzato (Arkéa-B&B Hotels) pulled off perhaps the biggest surprise of all by finishing second in the sprint behind Van der Poel, so will be sure to be watched closely this time around. 

For all their strength at the start of the spring, Visma-Lease a Bike go into Paris-Roubaix with their plans severely compromised. Matteo Jorgenson joins Wout van Aert in being unfit to ride, and though Christophe Laporte and 2022 winner Dylan van Baarle are set to ride, there are questions surrounding their form and fitness which makes repeats of their impressive past performances here unlikely. They might be beginning to understand how diminished past Classics champions Soudal–Quick-Step feel, who are hoping that Yves Lampaert’s consistent past record here of making the top 10 in three of the past four editions trumps his lack of form heading into this year’s race.

2022 winner Van Baarle is set to ride this year's race after a turbulent start for the Dutch squad (Image by

Another dependable performer at Paris-Roubaix is 2015 winner John Degenkolb (Team DSM-Firmenich PostNL), and the way he stuck with the elite selection last year up until an unfortunate late crash means he, too, must be considered a contender despite a lack of form. His transition from sprinter to Paris-Roubaix winner could act as inspiration for fast finishers such as Jonathan Milan (Lidl-Trek) and Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe), both of whom have enjoyed very promising results this spring, but are as yet unproven at Paris-Roubaix.

As well as them, other young talents lining up amid excitement as to what they are capable of achieving include time trial sensation Josh Tarling (Ineos Grenadiers), attacking Spaniard Oier Lazkano (Movistar), Le Samyn winner and ninth-place finisher from last year’s edition Laurenz Rex (Intermarché-Wanty) and debutant Laurence Pithie (Groupama-FDJ), all of whom have the potential to be the revelation of the race.


Rarely has there ever been such an overwhelming favourite for Paris-Roubaix as Mathieu van der Poel is for this year’s edition. Ahead of the race it feels like the only thing that could prevent him from winning is a crash or a badly timed mechanical. Both these things are of course possible at Paris-Roubaix, which is a race very dependent on luck as well as strength, but these days, the Dutchman always seems to manage to stay clear of adversary — and is looking so superior that he could even potentially recover from such an incident to win anyway. 

*Cover image by

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