The 19-year wait ended Sunday.
After almost 20 years of dry racing, the men’s peloton got a taste of what it’s like to ride a wet Paris-Roubaix. While there were experienced sport directors in the team cars, nobody in the almost 200-rider strong peloton had experienced the “Hell of the North” in rainy conditions like this before.
As had been evidenced by the women’s race the day before, keeping your bike tire-side down was a difficult task on the rain-slicked pavé. With even more heavy rainfall overnight, some sectors had become hugely waterlogged, and picking a line would be key.
Slips and crashes became the norm and even if you were a strong bike handler, there was sometimes little a rider could do to avoid a tumble — even on the asphalt, as Peter Sagan found out.
So, what was it like to ride the first wet Paris-Roubaix in nearly two decades? We asked the riders.
Zdeněk Štybar (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
“It was just a really hard race. I think you can imagine what it was like. It was really hard. I just didn’t have the legs to follow the best ones. I was just hoping that I would get better kilometer by kilometer but it didn’t happen. I didn’t have the day to do a better result.
“In the beginning, yes I enjoyed it. It was spectacular, it was something special, but the last 50k was so hard, I was really suffering. You just feel in the body that you are getting more and more empty and then you are just suffering.
“Roubaix is always really tough and if you have good legs then you don’t suffer that hard, it all depends on your legs and the condition you have. It’s just super hard in those conditions. I think tomorrow we will think that it was some fun. Now, I don’t want to think about cobblestones.”
Simon Clarke (Qhubeka-NextHash)
“I was so scared coming into it today. Obviously, it’s not a race that I normally do but as soon as we hit the first sector it was just like Strade Bianche, I felt at home. I was just on it and I was on the front the whole time and then I was in the front 10 or 15 coming into the forest and got a front puncture and I had a really big crash. I’ve actually got a broken wrist, I think. From then on, it was just survival to the finish.”
Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar)
“A lot of the sectors were like surfing on your bike. It was an absurdity. Your rear wheel is going left and right. I don’t know how I stayed upright. Amazingly, I didn’t crash. I was in the early break and up there it was pretty calm. It was 20 guys so you’re just kind of in a line and guys were crashing left and right in the breakaway.
“It was absurd. You have no control over your bike, zero control. All you hope to do is let the wheel go where it wants to, and you’ve got to stay light on the bars and you’re just avoiding people left and right. I don’t know how I didn’t go down. It felt like a cyclocross race.”
Chris Juul-Jensen (Team BikeExchange)
“It was dramatic from the get-go. There was a lot of tension in the bunch, a lot of nerves and I think that had an influence on the first 90 kilometers. We were fortunate enough to get two riders in the breakaway at the start but for the rest of us in the bunch, it was a case of trying to stay as close to the front. Nobody knew what to expect but everyone was expecting the worst. The s**t didn’t hit the fan completely but it was dramatic the whole way through.
“There were people left, right, and center, crashes, punctures, and mechanicals. It was just a question of plodding along and trying to make it through. Of course, everyone wants to win and get as good a result as possible, but you also have to sometimes be realistic if you’re in a situation where you’re not going to contend a top result and then focus on getting through. The easiest thing is to quit, but on a day like today, it’s all about finishing. It’s a grueling 260k, I can tell you that.
“I tried to see it just as a race like any other bike race but obviously it was impossible to not think of the potential of chaos. Once the race started, it was a bit of a relief as it was a case of focussing on the race rather than lying in your bed thinking of what could happen. The adrenaline took over and I got to the finish.”
Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates)
“It was really hectic on the first cobbled sections and I had to change bikes and that took the edge off me. It was really hard in the beginning and it was almost like half the peloton gave up just before we entered the cobbles. Only the first half was really fighting for position and the last half was people just swinging off and they weren’t really fighting but it was really crazy.
“For me, I was still in the front group just before the Arenberg, but I couldn’t really hold the position. It was just suffering from the Arenberg all the way to the finish.”