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Heresy? Maybe not, says Yves Lampaert, who is part of that tribe of Belgians who look lustfully over the French border.
“For me, Roubaix is a bit more mythical than Tour of Flanders,” Lampaert said. “I really like Roubaix. It’s a very long and hard race. If I could choose, I would take Roubaix.”
If you’re a cobble-eater, Roubaix is king. The endless sectors of rough-hewn French pavé are something mystical to the riders focusing on the northern classics. Winning Flanders might confirm your status within the Belgian cycling hierarchy, but winning Roubaix puts you on front pages around the world.
The 28-year-old Lampaert is as Belgian as they get. He hails from Izegem, not far from the cobbles of Roubaix. He had enough class in the ruthless junior scene to get noticed. As a U23 rider, he rumbled across the French stones as much as he did those of Belgium. He got bitten by the Roubaix bug early.
“The race is a bit seen as a Flemish race,” Lampaert said. “I also live close to Roubaix. I watched it every year on TV with my family. As a U23 rider, I raced it three times. I know the race already a bit. It’s really hard, you cannot imagine how bad the cobblestones are if you did not ride it before. The pain is 10 times as bad as you could imagine.”
And even though Paris-Roubaix is firmly held on French roads, the nearby Belgians almost consider it as a natural extension of their cycling domain. If there are cobbles, the Belgians want to shine.
Lampaert will line up Sunday as a second-tier favorite. Teammates Philippe Gilbert and Zdenek Stybar might be slightly ahead of him in terms of pecking order, but Lampaert is proving his worth and finding his place on the hyper-competitive Deceuninck-Quick-Step team. He won back-to-back editions of Dwars door Vlaanderen, and was seventh in the 2015 Roubaix.
Despite Lampaert’s relative compact build (by Flemish standards), he considers Roubaix a better race for him than Flanders.
And despite the explosiveness of the Flanders course, with its cobblestoned climbs, Lampaert said Roubaix is the harder race.
“At Flanders are uphill, the cobblestones are uphill, so it’s a short, explosive effort you do,” Lampaert said. “In Paris-Roubaix, it’s more going, going, going. It’s not the explosion — the sectors keep going. In Flanders, you explode on the mountains, and then everyone is watching each other. That’s why at Flanders you can go to the second time at Oude Kwaremont and still have 120 riders, where at Roubaix, it is a very good chance for a breakaway.”
Lampaert said the team will enter the race with a game plan, but in a race as chaotic and unpredictable as Roubaix, everyone must be ready to adapt and attack.
If he gets the green light, he’ll hit the accelerator.
“You have to not have bad luck,” he said on how to excel in Roubaix. “You need some good tactics as well. When you go at the good moments, you cannot be scared to attack. Good legs are really important. We have some plans on the bus already, but the actual plan is made in the race. You can never say how the race will go.”
Ever the generous teammate, last year after he won the Belgian national road title, Lampaert bought garden tractors for all the riders who helped set him up.
What will he buy his DQS teammates if he pulls off Roubaix?
“I still have to think about it,” he said with a laugh. “For sure something nice.”