As a former two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix, Marc Madiot knows all about the effects the weather can have on anyone’s chances of victory on the race known as the “Hell of the North.”
Madiot, now the team manager with Fdjeux.com, won the race in 1985, sandwiched in between the two victories of Irish sprinter Sean Kelly, then did it again six years later, in 1991.
In good conditions, Paris-Roubaix is enough to give any pro rider cause for concern. But add a sprinkling of rain on one of the race’s 26 cobblestone sections, and buoyant hopes of victory can soon drown in despair.
“When it rains, around half of the peloton doesn’t want to ride on the pavés, they’re very apprehensive,” said Madiot, who followed up his rain-soaked win in 1985 with a sunnier victory six years later and guided Frederic Guesdon to victory in 1997.
As a result, one of the first things riders do when they wake up on the second Sunday of April is to stick their head out the window to check the weather.
“Fred (Guesdon) doesn’t like it when it rains. It doesn’t particularly motivate him,” Madiot added: “When I saw the rain I was happy because I knew that half of the peloton were already eliminated. But once I’d won when it wasn’t raining, I much preferred it.”
This year, Paris-Roubaix features 51km of cobblestones out of a total of 261km, which will be raced at an average of 40kph if it’s dry. The forecast calls for dry and sunny weather, with a slight head wind. But Madiot says that opinions are divided over whether wet conditions make the race more difficult.
“In my opinion it does, but I know that not everyone agrees. It depends on the particular strengths of each rider. When it’s dry, it goes faster, and the guys ride in the gutter of the pavés. Then there’s the dust, of course, but when you’re riding it’s less of a hassle.”
The hard men with years of experience in Paris-Roubaix would have hoped for rain, but with that unlikely it would appear to dent the aims of 38-year-old Belgian legend Johan Museeuw, who is aiming for a record-equaling fourth victory in what will be his second-to-last race before retiring. History shows that Museeuw and his like shine when the mud starts flying.
But the bottom line is that guts and a steely determination are the main ingredients for anyone hoping to ride into the packed Roubaix velodrome with victory awaiting after 800 meters on the track.
“You can’t ride it whistling on your bike, that’s for sure,” added Madiot. “You have to be ready mentally. You hear about guys talking about how they won other races, how they attacked without really calculating, and that he managed to find his legs in the final few kilometers. At the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, it’s simply unimaginable.”
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