Van Summeren on Roubaix: ‘Apparently I wasn’t going so slowly they could close the gap’

"The night before the race, around midnight, I told my father, 'I will be close.' I knew I was good."

Johan Van Summeren (Garmin-Cervélo) says defending his Paris-Roubaix title will be his top goal next season.

The tall, lanky Belgium claimed an outsider victory on the cobbles last year in a Roubaix edition wrought with controversy, but Van Summeren told VeloNews he knew he had the legs to win.

“I had really good legs all that week. I already felt it on Thursday that I was good,” Van Summeren said in a recent interview recounting the spring classics. “The night before the race, around midnight, I told my father, ‘I will be close.’ I knew I was good.”

Van Summeren
The tall rider looks forward to defending his title next season. Photo: Andrew Hood

The 30-year-old Van Summeren, one of the tallest riders in the peloton at 6-foot-6, powered away from a group of leading riders in the closing 20km and fended off race favorite Fabian Cancellara leading the chase. Garmin teammate Thor Hushovd, also favored to win while decked out in the world champion’s jersey, had no choice but to sit on the wheel while Van Summeren’s chances played out.

Van Summeren defended his honor as well as that of Hushovd’s in the tactics that played out perfectly for Garmin-Cervélo.

“Thor did a great job. He didn’t have to ride. He could only benefit if Cancellara took me back. It would have only been better for him,” Van Summeren said. ” And apparently I wasn’t go so slowly that they could close the gap.”

Hushovd later stewed at the team tactic, because the Norwegian was dreaming of winning Roubaix for the first time while he was wearing the rainbow jersey last year. Van Summeren, however, complemented his teammate for living up to his word and riding the team tactic rather than trying to ride selfishly.

“Part of this victory I owe to Thor because everyone was looking at him. They were looking less at me, it gave me a window,” he said. “It was the ideal situation for me.”

Van Summeren was indeed going fast enough to fend off Cancellara and the other chasers, finishing 19 seconds ahead of Spartacus to claim his biggest victory of his decade-long career.

“It was my dream to win Roubaix. I know it’s the race that suits me the most, but that’s not a guarantee that you win it,” he said. “You need an exceptional day on the right moment, and I had that then, and it worked out great for me.”

Van Summeren said the victory hasn’t completely changed his life, but admits the has a higher media profile now in his native Belgium. To celebrate, he asked his longtime girlfriend to marry him just moments after crossing the line (they still haven’t married). He proudly displays the pave-trophy in his living room.

Next season will be all about preparing for the classics. Van Summeren rode a full fall calendar, finishing the Vuelta a Espana, racing the world championships, crossing to Asia to race in the Tour of Beijing and then back to Europe to round out the season with the Giro di Lombardia.

“The work starts early if you want to be in top shape for the classics in April,” he said. “It was good to race those races because it was hard for me to get back the form after Roubaix.”

Van Summeren admitted that he was disappointed that he was not selected to race the Tour de France with Garmin. Team boss Jonathan Vaughters stuck to his guns and left off such riders as Van Summeren and Heinrich Haussler, bringing a mixed squad of veterans and untested Tour riders that delivered the team’s best Tour results ever.

“It was a surprise and a little bit disappointment. I went to altitude and I came to Spain to get ready for the Tour and then the call came, I was surprised,” Van Summeren said. “I can also understand, it was Jonathan’s decision, he had to do what he wanted to do, he’s still the boss, right? He got some goals in his head and you have to respect that. He had things in his mind and we had a good conversation about it, I understand it, no hard feelings.”

Van Summeren has a three-year contract with Garmin and expects to be back at his best for next year’s spring classics.

Without Hushovd on the squad, Van Summeren will have the entire team riding for him, but will also have all the pressure of defending champion. He says he’s ready for that and more.