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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, April 12, 2019

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus. - Alexander Graham Bell

Paris–Roubaix: The Inside Story

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Teams look toward Paris-Roubaix

2017 winner Greg van Avermaet's CCC Team sent me this:

11 April 2019: Greg Van Avermaet will line up at Paris-Roubaix on Sunday eyeing a second win at the third Monument of the year, after a solid Classics season to date.

Sports Director Fabio Baldato is confident in Van Avermaet and the team lining up at the Hell of the North. “Naturally, we are lining up at Paris-Roubaix with Greg Van Avermaet as our leader. Greg has proved that he is one of the strongest in the Classics and as the winner of the race in 2017, we know that it is a race suited to him. It would be a dream to win the race again. Of all the Classics, Paris-Roubaix is the most unpredictable which can be both a good and bad thing. With more than 50 kilometers of cobbles, it is a race that only the strongest of riders can win and we have a lot of confidence in Greg ahead of Sunday,” Baldato explained.

Greg van Avermaet 

Greg Van Avermaet win Paris-Roubaix in 2017.

“We saw a great team performance at the Tour of Flanders, the best so far this Classics season. For this reason, we are lining up on Sunday with the same team so Greg will be supported by Kamil Gradek, Michael Schär, Gijs Van Hoecke, Nathan Van Hooydonck, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck, and Łukasz Wiśniowski. I hope to see the same team effort that we saw last Sunday, in which case Greg will be well supported until the final.”

Van Avermaet, who bounced back from two mechanical problems and went on to win in 2017, will be hoping to repeat his previous success on the unforgiving terrain of northern France. “I love Paris-Roubaix. Obviously, I make no secret of my desire to win the Tour of Flanders but Paris-Roubaix is a really special race for me. It was even before I won in 2017 and of course, since then it holds a special place in my career as my first and, so far, only Monument win. I would love to win it again,” Van Avermaet said.

“There is no race like Paris-Roubaix. Every one of those 29 sectors can make or break the race and often it’s completely out of your control. My form is something I can control and I’m really happy with how I have raced so far this season and my sensations, so I’m looking forward to Sunday. Unlike the Tour of Flanders, I don’t think we will see such a big group in the final so, I hope to race aggressively and be fighting for the win.”

Van Avermaet, who narrowly missed the podium in 2018 with fourth place, will line up at Paris-Roubaix for the tenth time on Sunday with four top ten results to his name.

Gradek will be the only CCC Team rider to make his debut at Paris-Roubaix, lining up alongside the experience of road captain Michael Schär who, like Van Avermaet, is set to line up for the tenth time.

Paris-Roubaix (14 April):
Rider roster: Kamil Gradek (POL), Michael Schär (SUI), Greg Van Avermaet (BEL), Gijs Van Hoecke (BEL), Nathan Van Hooydonck (BEL), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (BEL), Łukasz Wiśniowski (POL).

Sports Directors: Fabio Baldato (ITA), Valerio Piva (ITA)

UAE-Team Emirates sent me this:

Twenty-nine stretches of pavé and 256 km from Compiègne to Roubaix await the UAE Team Emirates in Paris-Roubaix this Sunday, April 14, 2019.

Allan Peiper (Aus) and Simone Pedrazzini (Swi) will direct the following seven men:
– Tom Bohli (Swi)
– Sven Erik Bystrøm (Nor)
– Fernando Gaviria (Col)
– Alexander Kristoff (Nor)
– Vegard Stake Laengen (Nor)
– Marco Marcato (Ita)
– Jasper Philipsen (Bel)

General Manager Joxean Matxin said, “Considering the good run of form and performances our cyclists have, we can look towards Paris-Roubaix with optimism. Our wish is to close the northern classics campaign with a significant result. Our goal is clear, a victory in the Hell of the North and just the desire to do well.

Alexander Kristoff

Alexander Kristoff checking out the course in 2018. Sirotti photo

Alexander Kristoff will captain our team. He has been very effective so far and wants to set the record straight in Paris-Roubaix after a fall last year prevented him from being a sure protagonist.

We will have riders at his side to offer a great contribution and a Fernando Gaviria who, despite debuting in the race, has the necessary talent for to go strongly“.

Here's the Katusha-Alpecin preview:

Every April the cycling world anxiously awaits Paris-Roubaix and this year is no different as we look forward to Sunday’s 117th edition of the “Hell of the North”. Team KATUSHA ALPECIN are fortunate to have past winner and sports director Dirk Demol (1988) leading the squad as they head for the pavé.

Demol: “Of course it’s a special race for me. I can even say it changed my life for me as a rider. As a young rider I could not say I really liked riding on the cobbles - your body is shaking all over the place. But somehow, I knew I could be quite smooth over the cobbles. I knew that if there were a race I could possibly win, it was Roubaix. And then the day came.” Demol was part of a 13-man breakaway that went early in the race. Although working for his team leader Eddy Planckaert and just performing his job of covering the breaks, the gaps to the break were big and by 30k to go it was clear the peloton would not be catching them. Demol seized his chance to win the race.

This season Demol is coaching Nils Politt for his return to Roubaix after finishing seventh last year in his debut appearance of the iconic race.

Dirk Demol

Dirk Demol in 2008. Thomas Ducroquet photo

Politt: “I was watching Roubaix when I was a kid, during the time of Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen. It was always a special race with so much action. You never knew how the end would play out. There were always lots of crashes and it was a big mess everywhere. Of course, it was a dream for a kid who grew up doing small races as a junior to finally ride in this race. The dream came true. It’s a nice feeling and one I will never forget.”

Often times strategy goes out the window and sheer fight and strong will determine the winner in Roubaix. With some 54k of cobbles and people constantly fighting for position, the winner is usually revealed quite late in the race.

Demol: “Not every rider is capable of winning Roubaix. In the past I used to say every rider at the start line has a chance to win. Now we see the field of riders at the top is much larger. There are maybe 20 riders who can legitimately win the race, where in the past it might have only been 5. There is only maybe 1 chance in 100 for a rider to go in a break and win from there. I look back at myself and I hold the record for the longest breakaway to ever succeed to the finish in Roubaix. I had 222k in the front, so I have the record! But the breaks rarely succeed. They are always coming back. The race is so hard that when they catch you it’s over.”

While some riders might not use the same description for Roubaix as Nils Politt, make no mistake that he enjoys everything about it. Politt: “It is fun riding Roubaix. I like riding on the cobbles. I don’t like the climbs in the Alps; I am too heavy. But now it’s my turn and at 80kg I think I’m a good weight. I like to fight for position with everybody. It’s all about the legs and full gas racing. I like it. I don’t like races that start easy and we only really race in the last hour. I like it hard the entire time. This is a nice thing in Paris-Roubaix - you are constantly fighting to come onto the pavé in a good position.”

Dirk Demol agrees: “The cobbles in Roubaix make this race so special. We have other races with cobbles but truthfully no cobblestones anywhere else compare with those in Roubaix. Riders who have never seen these cobbles in person are always surprised, always saying ‘What is this?!’ Special cobbles and also the parcours does not change. It’s the same course basically every time. It isn’t a secret, but to go over the cobblestones you have to go smooth, you have to give your bike a little bit of freedom. You have to handle your handlebars well, but leave some freedom. Once you learn this technique, you go smoother. You love it or you hate it, it’s that simple.”

Team KATUSHA ALPECIN have another ‘secret weapon’ to use in Paris-Roubaix, and that comes in the form of team press officer Philippe Maertens. Maertens loves logistics and studying the course with his well-worn map of the area, he comes up with plans A, B and yes, C, for how to locate bottles, food and spare wheels on Sunday. Maertens:“It’s not so easy to figure out because we have 29 cobbled sections so it’s like a puzzle where to put the six support teams and how to use them most effectively. I’ve even looked at some dirt roads to see if it is possible to use them, but I’m solving the puzzle. Paris-Roubaix is my favorite race.”

Politt assesses his form ahead of the race: “My legs are good. I look forward to Roubaix and I think I can do a good result there but you never know. You can have bad luck with a flat tire. Or one time not in the right position and there is a split, or you crash out. It’s like war. My goal is to be again in the top 10. Dirk already won so he has good advice and information on how to race it. He won from a breakaway but still he was a good rider and if you win Roubaix, it’s something special. I think he’s a good coach.”

With Politt’s first participation resulting in a seventh-place finish, Dirk Demol likes what he sees in the young German rider: “This is a race for riders who never give up, and Nils Politt is such a rider. Already for 4 years I have known about him. He’s a fighter, he works hard and every year he shows progression. If you ask me if he can win the race, I will answer you immediately yes. I don’t know if his time is now, but I believe he can win for sure.”

Nils harbors hopes for another strong finish on Sunday: “I have to be clear in my own head. In the end if you aren’t 100% in your head, you will lose positions. For six-and-a-half hours in Roubaix, you must concentrate. You don’t know what’s coming at Roubaix; that’s the scariest thing. You don’t know how things will end for you. And sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on. In the end the best thing is don’t think - just ride your bike. Look at the wheels next to you and keep going until you win it all.”

Everyone finishes in the velodrome at Roubaix with loud, cheering fans celebrating a historic day of racing. It’s exciting for both riders and enthusiasts to see the end of this historic race.

Politt:“The crowds are always nice. A lot of spectators come out and it’s nice to see. Its something special for everyone. Coming into the velodrome you are thinking at last it’s done. It doesn’t even matter if you’ve been dropped. And if you happen to be racing for position and get to sprint on the track, that’s fun, too.”

Shane Archbold returns to Bora–hansgrohe

The team sent me this release:

After the New Zealander’s contract was not extended following the 2017 season, Archbold is now making his return to BORA – hansgrohe, in order to bolster the lead-out of our strong sprinters, Sagan, Bennett and Ackermann.

“With Sagan, Bennett and Ackermann we have three fast men, however, we felt that we needed to strengthen the team’s lead-out train and capacity to optimally prepare for fast finishes. Shane was already part of the team from 2015 to 2017, and we have great faith in his abilities. After his serious crash at the 2016 Tour de France, he experienced health problems, which rendered him unable to continue competing on the WorldTour. It was for that reason that we did not extend his contract. However, I assured him that if there was ever a chance for him to return to the team, then the door would always remain open. Now he is fit again, motivated, and ready to grasp this new challenge with both hands, and it is an opportunity that we are very excited to be able to give him.” –Ralph Denk, Team Manager

“This is incredible! I am so thankful to have received this great opportunity. The WorldTour will definitely be a challenge, but for me there is no better team with which to take on this challenge than BORA – hansgrohe. We have a common history and I also have many friends within the team. I just hope to be ready to show everyone that I deserve this opportunity.” – Shane Archbold

Victor Campenaerts World Hour Record attempt update

Campenaerts' Lotto-Soudal team sent me this:

Part 8: Six days to go – 60 X 14 = 102

Victor Campenaerts: “Everything’s fine!”

“The past week was all about testing. First and foremost, the gear choice. In any case, the cadence on the track is higher compared to the road, but it still needs to feel comfortable in order to keep the right lines and to control your heart rate and breathing. The 59 X 14, 60 X 14, 61 X 14 as well as the 63 X 15 are options. But with the 59 X 14 and the 63 X 15, I would have to maintain a cadence of 104 and as I am a road cyclist by nature, that turned out too high for me. So the 61 or 60 X 14 remained, being 100 to 102 revolutions per minute. That does not seem like a big difference, but it still is. Bradley Wiggins managed to hold 104 revolutions during his attempt, the highest of all modern Hour Record attempts, but he was also trained on the track.”

Voctor Campenaerts

Victor Campenaerts has just six days to go. Sirotti photo.

“Besides, we also searched for the best way to communicate the lap times. During my 30-minute test in Grenchen at the end of September, I rode with earphones, like in a road race but only because the test was focused on the physical activity. You are not allowed to ride with earphones during the Hour Record attempt. I trained so many hours on the track that we were able to extensively research what the ideal place for Kevin with the tablet – which can be used to communicate the lap times – would be. Moreover, we have agreed on some signs to see whether I am on schedule or not.”

“A final important part is keeping the right line. After thousands of laps on the track in Aguascalientes, I’ve become quite familiar with it, so that’s fine. Last Sunday, the Tour of Flanders was ridden. Our day starts at 4h30 in the morning and there is a time difference of seven hours. Above all, there wasn’t any track training scheduled on Sunday, so I watched the final 100 kilometres of the Ronde while training on the rollers. Afterwards, I did another outdoor training session in the beautiful surroundings. The coming days, I will get into recuperation mode, all based on physical and mental rest, the final training stimuli and the right intake of carbohydrates. Six days to go…”

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