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Johan Van Summeren: from DNF in 2010 to Paris-Roubaix victory in 2011

2011 Paris-Roubaix, Johan Van Summeren
After failing to finish Paris-Roubaix in 2010, Johan Van Summeren bounces back to win the race in 2011. Photo: Ben Delaney

ROUBAIX, France (VN) — Johan Van Summeren did not finish last year’s Paris-Roubaix.

Following top-10 placings in 2008 and 2009, the 6-foot-5 Belgian arrived at the team bus after the 2010 race beat up, covered in dust and frustrated with himself.

“Last year was a disaster,” Van Summeren said. “I was new to Garmin. I wanted to do really good for my new bosses. It was a real catastrophe. I could feel it even before the race even started that things were not going to go well.”

Team owner Doug Ellis and Van Summeren had a short conversation in the parking lot following the 2010 race.

“He was really emotional,” Ellis said. “He was saying, ‘Oh, Doug, I’m so sorry, I know this is why you hired me, and I let you down.’ I’m sure that was in his mind today.”

Van Summeren showed promise as a young rider, winning the under-23 Liège-Bastogne-Liège and placing second in the U23 worlds in 2003.

In 2008 at Paris-Roubaix, the tall Belgian rode to an impressive eighth place for Davitamon-Lotto. He bettered that the next year, finishing fifth. When Garmin signed him for the 2010 season, the expectation was another strong showing at the classics.

Despite Van Summeren’s proven strengths at the classics, his role at Garmin has clearly been that of a domestique. And in contrast to his towering stature, Van Summeren is soft-spoken and humble.

“One of the great things about Johan is that even this huge win won’t go to his head,” said Garmin director Jonathan Vaughters. “Sure, he’ll probably want more money now, but there is absolutely no ego with that guy.”

Garmin arrived at the start line in Compiegne with world champion Thor Hushovd as the undisputed team leader. Sprinter Tyler Farrar was also a good prospect for the race, as was Roubaix veteran Roger Hammond. But no one was talking about Van Summeren. Consider the team numbers, 11-19. Hushovd was 11. Van Summeren? 19.

“We knew we were bringing a deep team and we weren’t exactly sure how it was going to play out, but I don’t think anyone would have predicted this particular outcome,” Ellis said. “To see him pull away so strong and with so much heart and then stay out there as the world’s best riders were chasing on his tail, that was just fantastic.”

As Van Summeren pounded away the final kilometers, obviously suffering to keep the speed up, Garmin director Peter Van Petegem (and 2003 Paris-Roubaix winner) was screaming in his ear via team radio.

“He was yelling and yelling to me, but that’s how I like it,” Van Summeren said. “They yell so hard that you don’t feel pain in your legs anymore.”

Van Summeren said his solo ride Sunday into the Roubaix velodrome was sweet redemption for his disastrous 2010 attempt.

“I think I made up for it now,” he said.

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