COMPIÈGNE, France (VN) — Paris-Roubaix is “heroic” and “unlike any other race,” and to better understand how the race develops its winning groups, there is no one better to ask than a winner.
Belgian Johan Vansummeren won it in 2011 when he raced with Garmin-Cervélo and Dutchman Servais Knaven did likewise in 2001 with Domo-Farm Frites. They explained what the potential 2015 Paris-Roubaix winner needs mind in the opening phases of the 253.5 kilometers from Compiègne to the Roubaix velodrome in northern France.
“It’s not just because I won it that the race is special,” Vansummeren, now with French team AG2R, told VeloNews.
“For me, there is nothing like it, six hours and on cobbles. Nothing compares to it. It’s a heroic race that is different than anything you find in cycling.”
Paris-Roubaix covers 27 cobbled farm roads for 2015. The first one, number 27, comes after 98.5km of racing, the sector in Troisvilles.
The Arenberg Forest, number 18, is the most well known with its nasty and poorly placed stones running above the abandoned coal mine. The sector leaves 93.5km until the finish line on Roubaix’s velodrome.
“I break it down into three blocks, the part between Compiègne and the first sector, between the first sector and Arenberg, and from Arenberg to the velodrome,” Vansummeren said.
“Going into the first sector is a sprint. Everybody is excited. It doesn’t stop there for me, though, because it feel like the tension is running high from there to the end. Maybe only in the first part until the cobbles can you relax.”
Vansummeren won by attacking on the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector with 16km to race. Dutchman Maarten Tjallingii followed, but could not hold on. After winning, Vansummeren proposed to his girlfriend in the velodrome.
Knaven started the day as a helper for the team’s leaders, including Johan Museeuw. Now he is directing team Sky with leaders Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas.
“There are two parts for me: before and after the Arenberg Forest,” Knaven told VeloNews.
“Heading into the first sector it’s important, but not so much. You can ride at the back, but it’s better to be in the first 40 to 50. I was always one of the first five on the first sector.
“Bradley likes to ride at the back, but I’ll have him up near the front. In general, you want to ride in the first 40 to 50 the entire time up until Arenberg. After the Arenberg, the groups take shape.”
After Arenberg, the selection begins “and you have to be wise to follow the right ones,” Vansummeren said.
“It’s not like after Arenberg you can sit up and say, ‘Okay, now we are here, we can rest and wait.’
“No, the race is full on. That’s also because a crash can happen anywhere in Paris-Roubaix. You have to be alert the entire race. The tension is so high.”
While disaster lurks everywhere, it’s possible to return from a mishap, added Knaven.
”Roubaix is special because you can flat, crash, and whatever, and still come back,” he said.
“Brad did that in 2013. You can jump from group to group, get back up to the front, and another crash will happen. There is no other race like Roubaix.”
Knaven won the race with an attack from 10km out. Teammates Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins followed to claim the remaining steps on the podium. He also shares the record for number of finishes at 16 with Belgian Raymond Impanis.
“When I won, I had guys like Museeuw alongside me,” said Knaven. “I was leading and working for them, then the situation changed. We had strength in numbers, something that we have now with Sky.
“It’s important to have a team with several riders on the same level. Brad and Geraint our are protected leaders, but we also have Bernie Eisel, Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe. They all have the same status — the only thing is that with Brad and Geraint, if they puncture, the others will immediately give them their wheels.”
After Arenberg come sectors that are less famous but just as hard, such as Auchy-lez-Orchies – Bersée (number 11), Mons-en-Pévèle (10), and Carrefour de l’Arbre (4).
“After Arenberg, you know who is going to win or lose the race,” Knaven said. “That starts the second phase.”
Wiggins called the phase of the race after the second feed zone, at kilometer 185, “the business end of the race.”
“You get a group of guys who are constantly getting dropped, getting back on…,” Wiggins said in a press conference.
“Then you get to that middle part of that last section, from Orchies to Mons-en-Pévèle, when the first big moves will be made. So many guys have gone there who have gone on to win the race.”