He’s not the rider whose name is being bandied about as a podium pick, but HTC-Columbia’s Bernhard Eisel enters Paris-Roubaix Sunday with the support of his team and the confidence of a Ghent-Wevelgem victory two weeks ago.
Following Eisel’s bunch sprint win at Ghent-Wevelgem, HTC director Rolf Aldag appointed the Austrian sprinter as the team’s protected rider. Eisel finished 16th at the Tour of Flanders last weekend, and a distant 85th at Scheldeprijs on Wednesday riding for Andre Griepel, who finished 22nd after the HTC lead-out train blew apart in the final kilometers.
Eisel’s best result at the Roubaix velodrome was in 2006 when he crossed the line eighth; a result that was upped to fifth place after three top finishers were relegated for jumping a closed train crossing.
Asked about his team leadership role for Roubaix, Eisel joked, “We haven’t had the meeting yet,” in reference to a team press release sent out earlier in the week declaring his protected status at Roubaix. “I’ve only read the press release.”
“Ah, it’s Roubaix, it’s like the Tour of Flanders, everyone has to do his own race. There are going to be plenty of attacks at the start that we’ve got to cover. And I’ve got full support from the team if I crash or puncture like at Tour of Flanders. And that also gives me confidence. I also know I have to give it back, and show that I’m worth doing that.”
Asked if entering Roubaix with full team support — yet without the pressure of a race favorite — is a perfect position, Eisel said he puts enough pressure on himself.
“On other teams the sponsors can add pressure, but not on this team,” Eisel said. “All the pressure comes from a rider, because he wants to show himself.”
As far as expectations, Eisel said he believes he can win at Roubaix. Otherwise, he said, “you’ve already lost when you go into the race.”
“There’s always a chance to win this race,” he said. “Otherwise you don’t start it. Even to the big boys, something can happen. I’m prepared for everything. You just take your chance. I was quite strong at Ghent-Wevelgem, but I was still the surprise. I’m always good for that. I’m ready.”