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John Degenkolb still banging on Paris-Roubaix’s door

Veteran German said he's 'not afraid' to race against rising new talents on cobbles.

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John Degenkolb has won Paris-Roubaix once, and before he’s done racing, he wants to win it again.

The 32-year-old German enters his 12th pro season with the same burning ambition as always. As one of the peloton’s most experienced riders, he’s keen to put his racing acumen to good use.

“My favorite race is Paris-Roubaix, and that’s what I am working toward,” Degenkolb said. “It would the biggest dream to repeat a victory in that race.”

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In many ways, Degenkolb already has repeated a Roubaix win. In 2018, Degenkolb won stage 9 at the Tour de France that was contested over pavé sectors used in the Hell of the North. Yet it’s another monument win on his palmarès, which already includes one Roubaix and one Milano-Sanremo, that motivates him each day in training.

Ever since his breakout 2015 season, when he won Sanremo and Roubaix in one magical spring, it’s often been one step forward and two steps back for Degenkolb. A near-fatal training crash in January 2016 during his team’s pre-season training camp, when an elderly driver plowed into a group of Giant-Alpecin riders that also included American Chad Haga, disrupted Degenkolb’s steady rise.

An emotional John Degenkolb won Stage 9 at the 2018 Tour de France. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Degenkolb struggled to regain his form and confidence, yet he always kept working. Despite the crash, he’s won at least one race every year since 2016. The German said he never considered himself a pure sprinter, but said he is a “classics-style rider with a fast sprint.”

In 2020, he crashed and missed the time cut in the first stage at the Tour de France, but bounced back to win a stage at the Tour of Luxembourg, and backed it up with a solid ride at Tour of Flanders with ninth that gives Degenkolb hope for the spring classics.

“I’ve never been so close to the podium at Flanders as I was in 2020,” Degenkolb said in a media call. “That gives me confidence. I believe I can shine bright again.”

For 2021 in what’s his second season with Lotto-Soudal, Degenkolb hopes to play a starring role at the classics, as well as race the Tour de France and world championships. He cautioned that the classics-style course in Flanders will make the worlds harder than many expect.

“It’s not going to be an easy race,” he said. “It’s going to be very technical. I saw some of the parcours last year, and there are some really short and hard hills. If I am in absolutely top shape I can be fighting for a result.”

Unfortunately for Degenkolb, his hoped-for third act runs smack into a new generation of classics riders led by Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. The pair seems destined to dominate the northern classics for the next decade, and perhaps create cycling’s next major rivalry.

“I’m not afraid to race against these young guys,” Degenkolb said. “When you look back to the other races it’s not like they share all the wins, and they are beatable.”

Degenkolb says he has something the younger riders don’t — experience.

“I picked up so much experience, coolness, and cleverness,” he said. “I’m not afraid to measure myself against the young guys in the peloton. It’s not a time trial and it’s a lot about experience and tactics. I’m very confident that we can get a very good result there.”