By Andrew Hood
Slipstream-Chipotle heads into this weekend’s Tour of Flanders and next week’s Paris-Roubaix motivated to rise to the challenge in its debut in cycling’s most punishing one-day races.
If the team’s ride at Milan-San Remo last month is any indication, when Will Frischkorn worked into the day’s main breakaway and Julian Dean finished in the top 25, the team should be right in the mix for its first run over the cobblestones of the northern classics.
“The next two Sundays are pretty important for us. The boys are ready and we’re optimistic, but it’s hard up here and we have to take what we can get,” Slipstream sport director Johnny Weltz told VeloNews. “We had a good De Panne, other than some of the guys getting banged up in crashes. The morale is good.”
Only Magnus Backstedt has any real experience with the distance, pounding and suffering that accompanies the northern classics, something he’s been sharing with the team during training sessions.
“Some of these guys might not have ridden a big classic before, but they’ve been getting beaten up in these races the past few years up here. They’re tougher than people think,” Weltz continued. “They know what’s in store and they’re not afraid. I’m not so worried about that.”
The team’s hopes, especially for Paris-Roubaix, will be resting on the banged-up shoulders of Backstedt.
The 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner is coming off a broken clavicle suffered at the Tour of Qatar in January, but looks to be fully recovered and is riding with huge motivation.
Backstedt, 33, revealed his form is coming up just in time for the big races with a decent showing at De Panne. He was 10th in the second stage and powered to second in the closing time trial to bounce from 19th to eighth overall.
“Maggy seems like he’s getting better every day. He’s very motivated and really wants to have a good showing,” he said. “We have some other cards to play as well. Tyler (Farrar) and Martijn (Maaskant) are both very strong. We have Ryder (Hesjedal) coming in for (Steven) Cozza ( who broke his clavicle in a crash at De Panne). Will (Frischkorn) is good now and Danny Pate is super strong to help the team.”
For Flanders, the team will be looking to dice it up the best they can, either trying to put riders into some early moves or have at least one protected rider to follow the attacks late in the race.
“For Paris-Roubaix, we can have some expectations. We can play a different role because Maggy is a proven player there. We know he can be there in the decisive moments,” Weltz continued. “In Flanders, we have to wait to see how the race unfolds and then we can see where we can take some benefit. Normally when you get a wild-card invitation to these races you want to be seen, so we have a few cards we can play.”
Reports that typical Flemish weather is looming, with rain, wind, cold and perhaps even snow likely, will make the team’s northern classics inauguration even that much tougher. Weltz sees that as a benefit, especially when it comes to an experienced rider like Backstedt.
“For Maggy, the bad weather is good for him but for these other guys, I’m not so sure. With the bad weather, it’s all about the mentality,” he said. “A lot of guys give up the fight when they see it’s bad weather. That’s where Maggy can be strong.”
The team won’t be racing the mid-week semi-classic at Ghent-Wevelgem for a very simple reason — they weren’t invited. Race organizers overlooked the American squad in favor of putting more Belgium teams in the race, which is fine by Weltz.
“We didn’t get invited, but maybe that’s OK for us this year. It’s a dangerous race and it will give us a few more days to recover and prepare for Roubaix,” he said. “We’ll go to the cobblestones (at Roubaix) to make some final tests of material and see the course. It’s fine we’re not racing Ghent this year.”
The team has more than enough on its plate with Flanders and Roubaix.
Slipstream-Chipotle for Tour of Flanders:
Magnus Backstedt (Swe), Huub Duyn (Ned), Tyler Farrar, Michael Friedman, Will Frischkorn, Ryder Hesjedal (Can), Martijn Maaskant (Bel), Danny Pate (all others USA)