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Behind the scenes with FDJ-Suez on its Paris-Roubaix recon

VeloNews follows the French team as it tests out the Paris-Roubaix cobbles ahead of Saturday's race.

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With the progression of technology over the years, recons are becoming less of a necessity for teams as most of it can be done online.

At the classics, however, there is no replacement for getting out on the cobbles and testing the course.

VeloNews followed the FDJ-Suez team and its roster of Grace Brown, Clara Copponi, Eugénie Duval, Vittoria Guazzini, Marie Le Net, and Jade Wiel on Wednesday as it recon’d the women’s route.

Since the Tour of Flanders wrapped up last Sunday, teams have been traveling to France all week to ride the Paris-Roubaix route. For the men, the route is some 256.6km with 29 sectors of cobbles totaling 54.5km, while the women race 145.5km over 17 cobbled sectors totaling 29.2km.

Recons rarely take in the whole route, particularly not for the men, and Paris-Roubaix training is focused on getting to grips with the pavé. FDJ-Suez starts out from its hotel in Valenciennes and hits up all 17 of the cobbled sectors.

“It’s not so much about knowing the course and the turns and where everything is, it’s about knowing the feel of the cobbles and trying our equipment and testing different tires and tire pressure. Even what gloves to wear, remembering how to hold your handlebars and all of these things,” Brown told VeloNews during the recon.

“A lot of the other races in the year, we don’t focus so much on doing recons because there’s less of those elements that you really need to refresh your memory on. If we came here without doing the recon we would be really underprepared.”

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FDJ-Suez is looking to Paris-Roubaix to finish its cobbled classics campaign on a high after a disappointing Tour of Flanders. After getting three riders into the top 10 at last year’s race, Brown was the top finisher for the team back in 24th place.

“I think we’re all disappointed with Flanders. It was just a bit of a sad and disappointing moment in the race on the Koppenberg. There are only a handful of riders that didn’t feel disappointed at the end because of the situation,” she said. “We didn’t get to see the top riders really fight it out. It was decided by a technical aspect of the course. We all know that’s a part of Belgian racing but I don’t think it’s the most interesting way for a race to be decided.

“I was feeling good until that moment, and I was looking forward to being there in the final and really fighting on the Kwaremont and the Paterberg, but I didn’t get the chance to do that. Hopefully, I will get a bit more of an opportunity to really race this weekend.”

FDJ rides its Roubaix recon
FDJ rides its Roubaix recon (Photo: FDJ-Suez)

Wednesday was the second recon that the FDJ-Suez team has done in recent weeks after it tested it out shortly after Gent-Wevelgem. The conditions are significantly better this time around as the team was faced with slick cobbles and mud in its earlier ride.

There are still some pockets of water and mud on some of the cobbles, most of which will be cleaned away when organizers do their annual sweep of the cobbles shortly before the race. With some rain predicted over the next couple of days, these cobbles may be slick again.

However, the sun was beating down Wednesday, giving the riders some ideal conditions to test their equipment.

“We rode a few of the sectors a few weeks ago and it was a bit wet. It’s very different when you’re riding through the mud on the cobbles, it becomes quite slippery as we saw in the first edition of this race for the women. There were riders slipping everywhere. Everyone is happy with a dry Roubaix,” Brown said.

Testing tire pressure is a key part of the recon
Testing tire pressure is a key part of the recon

With testing out equipment the main priority for the team on its recon, the riders don’t plow through all of the cobbles right into Roubaix. There are three stops planned throughout the day so that the riders can give feedback to the mechanics and alter anything on their bikes.

Brown is riding a fairly low tire pressure over the cobbles in an effort to conserve energy for the key moments later in the race.

While it might be a recon, the Paris-Roubaix cobbles are still dangerous and they can cause problems for riders and cars alike. A team car was lost to Mons-en-Pévèl, the first of two five-star sectors after it sprung a leak as it was bashing along the cobbles.

Later on, expected team leader Guazzini suffered a heavy fall in the final kilometers of the race. The Italian was set to return to the “Hell of the North” after crashing out of the wet 2021 edition.

She’d been apprehensive about her return and decided to skip last year’s race as it was too soon after the accident. Despite her concerns, the Italian had been riding well across the cobbles and had made it over the most challenging sectors.

However, a heavy fall after the Carrefour de l’Arbre left her with a broken pelvis and the team missing a key rider. FDJ still has Brown as another of its leaders for Saturday’s race as it looks to match or beat the fifth-place finish by Marta Cavalli last year.

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