Mention Paris-Roubaix and it evokes an outpouring of emotion ranging from pain to exhaustion to elation. It is a cycling extravaganza. It is the Hell of the North. The Queen of the Classics. A Sunday in Hell. A Monument.
The “modern day” cobbled sectors, the deciding elements of the race, are steeped in history dating back to 1967 when the race began utilising more sections of pavé. The 2013 edition of Paris Roubaix has 27 sectors – that collectively add up to 52.6 kilometres of cobbles out of 254 kilometres in total. Each sector is given a difficulty rating from one to five based on its length, the unevenness of the cobbles, its overall condition and its location. There are three five-star sectors with the last coming just 20 kilometres before the finish on the Roubaix Velodrome. Only one sector is easy enough to be awarded one star.
Several nights before the race, Stuart O’Grady, former winner, multi-time veteran of Paris-Roubaix and team captain, answered questions about his captivating experiences surrounding Paris-Roubaix.
Q: Is Paris Roubaix a race of attrition or is there an actual plan that is meant to be followed?
There’s obviously a perfect scenario for each team. The team meeting before the race will identify this scenario and everyone is given a job based on the perfect plan, but as in most big races, people crash, they have punctures. It’s quite rare that all eight guys are on 100% form on the same day. The key is to be flexible, stay calm and do the best with what you have. Every single rider has a major role, and if one of the guys doesn’t fill his role for whatever reason, then someone else has to cover it and life becomes hard. You hope everyone sticks to the game plan, but at the same time, we have to be able to change tactics on the fly if other circumstances arrive. After Flanders, [Fabian] Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek) is obviously a favourite, but we’ve got to go out there and call upon our tactical knowledge to beat him. We have to race our way.
Q: What is your role as road captain in a race like Paris Roubaix?
The road captain is often the most experienced. I’ve been in every situation possible. I’ve been in hard Paris-Roubaix’s and great ones – well, they’re all hard but when they go well, it’s easy to forget that. It’s about keeping the guys cool, calm and collected. Anything can happen and at some point in a Paris-Roubaix something usually goes wrong. When you talk to the guys at the end of the race, everyone has a different story to tell because it’s a whole adventure out there on the road. It’s about keeping the team together, conserving energy and communicating well.
Q: What is it about the Forest of Arenberg that is so decisive?
Even though it’s far from the finish, it’s one of the most decisive parts of the race. Mostly, it’s about damage control. On each sector you have to stay at the front and stay out of trouble. Before entering the forest, it is absolutely imperative to be at the front. Over the cobbles each rider that is in front of you must be looked at as an object. That rider can have a puncture or a crash or drop a water bottle or a chain and all of a sudden, this object is now an obstacle. Every water bottle that is dropped is like a grenade. It’s a big fight for position. It’s like going to war. At the end of that battlefield, you assess who made it through. Who’s there? Who’s not there? You have a split second to assess and make a quick decision. You either have teammates and can go on the offensive, or you’re numbers down and now need to be a little bit careful making any moves.
Q: When you won in 2007, what went right?
I think a lot of things made that happen. One was obviously being on really good form. Without the legs, you can’t do anything. Also being in the right place at the right time. It was also quite a bit of luck. I crashed that day. I crashed when I was meant to be attacking and stretching the field out for Fabian. If I hadn’t crashed, I would have sacrificed myself in the next section for Fabian and he probably would have won. I had a puncture in the forest. So many things happened. In hindsight, I look back and see how many different things happened both good and bad to contribute to the win. All the stars were aligned on that day. There was also great team support, obviously. We had been all in for Fabian and it turned out the team support benefited me in the end.
Q: Last year, Sebastian Langeveld broke his collarbone ahead of Paris-Roubaix. This year he is injury free and going strong – how does that impact things?
I guess Sebastian has been the team leader for the classics teams for a couple years now. Obviously, last year it was a massive blow to have our number one guy crash out. A lot of chance was passed along to us, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to come up with any sort of result. Hopefully this year we can turn that around. He’s shown that he has really great form. He was up there in Flanders, and Paris-Roubaix should suit him even more than the Flanders circuit.
Q: What modifications will the team make to the equipment for Paris-Roubaix?
We have different frames for Paris-Roubaix. We have a frame with a slightly longer wheel base which makes the ride a little smoother across the cobbles. We use wider tires to absorb more of the shock. Some use more handlebar tape and more cushioning underneath the handlebar tape. I have my wrists bandaged up to make it a little more stiff. We’ve had different pedals in the past and slightly different strength carbon in the frame.
I imagine there are a hell of a lot more spare wheels in the car behind. They’re the first piece of equipment to go – a broken rim or a puncture.
Q: In part because of the team, cycling is enjoying a wider audience in Australia than ever before. For an Australian who might stay up to watch Paris-Roubaix for the first time on Sunday night, what can you tell them to expect to see?
(Laughs). If they’re flicking on Paris-Roubaix for the first time they’re going to say – “What the hell? What kind of bike race is this?” It’s a cross between mountain biking, road racing and gladiator warfare. They’ll see guys crashing, cobbles, dust, mayhem, chaos and a lot of tired faces. It’s an adventure. It’s the Hell of the North. You’re putting yourself through hell and everyone gets to watch it on TV. You finish the race and you feel like you’ve been in a car wreck. It’s pretty full on. It’s about as hard as cycling ever gets.
Q: We know you love this race, but you're not really making the race sound so appealing with that sort of description. What's the draw of this race?
Well, we all obviously love one thing, right? Pain and suffering. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be in this sport. I guess it’s all about pushing the body to the absolute limit. You either love it or hate of it. None of us, when we get to the finish, unless we win, feel anything but pain. The body is buckled. It’s the most pain you put yourself through that I can think of. You’re cramping. Your whole body is a wreck, but it’s satisfying. You’ve achieved something that not many people will do in their lifetime. It’s a personal achievement to get to the Roubaix Velodrome and race for the win. In my first Paris-Roubaix, I was just happy to get to the velodrome. Any rider who finishes, whether he is inside the time cut or not, has accomplished something. It’s an achievement just to get there.
ORICA-GreenEDGE for Paris-Roubaix:
Baden Cooke Fumy Beppu Jens Keukeleire Jens Mouris Luke Durbridge Mitch Docker Sebastian Langeveld Stuart O’Grady
Image courtesy of Team Orica-GreenEDGE Pro Cycling
Surprise winner of the Santos Tour Down Under at the end of January, Tom-Jelte Slagter (Team Blanco) is aiming for other successful performances to back up his current position of UCI WorldTour leader. The 23-year-old Dutch rider will be in the running at the Tirreno-Adriatico from March 6th to 12th and Milan-Sanremo on March 16th.
Until the age of 17, you were a speed skater. What made you switch to cycling ? Skating was my sport and I cycled in summer to keep in shape. Today it’s the opposite: I’m a full-time cyclist and in winter I sometimes skate two hours a day as a diversion. The transition was natural: I realised that I wouldn’t be one of the best in the world in ice skating. So I turned to cycling and started to get results. So it is the pleasure of winning that spurs you on? I really like to win and I always need to win. I don’t come from a family where cycling is a kind of religion, even if my dad enjoys riding himself. I'm someone who needs sports results to go further in my career and personal life. Bearing that in mind, the fact that you didn’t win any events during your first two seasons as a professional, even at a minor level, didn’t frustrate or discourage you a little? I was here mostly to learn from my team colleagues. I observed and looked around me to try to see how to do things and take the right direction. I was sometimes close to the winner. We sometimes finished together in the same group and he raised his hands just ahead of me. I was sure that my time would come... Your first victory as a professional came at the beginning of your third season. And it was directly in a UCI WorldTour event... At the time I didn’t fully realise. It’s still hard to believe. Of course I had prepared seriously for the Santos Tour Down Under and I was one of the team leaders, together with Wilco Keldermann. But to imagine that I would win... in fact everything went perfectly, my confidence grew as the days went on and the team helped me control the situation. So here you are, the first leader of the UCI WorldTour in 2013! The real shock is when you go onto the Internet and you see: Slagter, winner of the Santos Tour Down Under, then Slagter, leader of the UCI WorldTour. I mean to say! It’s my name, with the little Dutch flag alongside, right at the top of the rankings. It is a first for me since turning pro. How long can you stay leader of the UCI WorldTour? It all depends on my result in the Tirreno-Adriatico. Some riders will earn points at the same time in Paris-Nice, so I will need to consolidate my position by going for victory at some finishes. Our leader for the overall classification will be Bauke Mollema, who is stronger than me in the time trials and the long mountain passes. My main task is as his teammate. But if I have the chance to clock up some UCI WorldTour points, I won’t say no. Is the final ranking a goal for you now? I am going to concentrate on each race as it comes. But I am the current leader and that gives me a certain responsibility. I should look to a good final position. A top 5 or top 10 seems out of reach when you see the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins who are capable of playing the leading roles. I will do my best. A place in the top 15 would be outstanding for me. After Tirreno-Adriatico, you will discover Milan-Sanremo. What do you expect there? I heard from the riders in the team that it is one of the most beautiful races. Last year I went training just for fun in the Cipressa and the Poggio [the main final hills, located 22.1km and 6.2km from the finish, Ed.]. I like these climbs, they suit explosive riders like me. However I don't know how to handle the distance of 298km. I will help my leaders and the objective will be to learn. You worked very hard this winter and you are strong for the beginning of the season. How can you keep this up? Each year, it’s the same question. As an Under-23 rider, I did well quite early. Last year, I finished 3rd in a stage of the Tour d’Oman and 6th overall. But, it’s true that you have to last the distance. After the three Ardennes classics (Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège), I will rest for at least a week. The goal is to continue to perform well at least through to the World Championships (according to Team Blanco coach Jan Boven, Tom-Jelte Slagter could sit out the grand tours this season and concentrate on the classics in August in September with a view to collecting more UCI WorldTour points). What has you victory in the Tour Down Under changed for you? It’s a big boost for my legs and for my mind. I knew I could finish in the top 10 of a UCI WorldTour race. Now I know it is possible to win and that makes a huge difference. I am more motivated and more confident. I assume my victory will reinforce my place in the team too. But at Blanco, I had already been given chances. If they think you can win, they support you whatever your age. So “The Butcher” is going to strike again? (He laughs.) Slagter means “butcher” in Dutch, hence my nickname. But Andre Greipel (the German sprinter from Lotto-Belisol) found a new one in Australia. He called me the “Pocket Rocket”. That is even better!
Paul Sherwen: Simon, a little bit of a difficult start to the week, today redemption, what a present for Australia Day.
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE): Yeah obviously I was pretrty disappointed to drop out of contention on Stage 2 for overall and had one chance to really make up for that and that was today, so I’m wrapped.
To win here on Australia Day, it’s a fantastic feeling and a big thanks to my Orica-GreenEDGE team mates. They waited in a line for me today, so it was great to finish it off.
Paul: When the Spanish rider Moreno had gone, did you think it had disappeared (the chance of a victory) or did you never give up?
Simon: As you said I never gave up till I was right on the line, especially when the young Blanco guy jumped acrioss to us and went straight past. I jumped straight onto his wheel and tried to come past him in the final.
Paul: So how does it feel? Last year you were second on this stage, it looks like Willunga Hill is becoming the scene for Simon Gerrans?
Simon: Yeah I guess I’ve had two finishes up here. To win today was a nice way to round out the week.
Paul: Does it make it a little bit sweeter today being Australia Day, a national holiday?
Simon: For sure. It was absolutely fantastic. The crowd was bigger than a stage at the Tour de France. Really, there were people around the whole course today cheering us on. It was a great atmosphere!!
Since Canada’s Svein Tuft in 2007, Rory Sutherland is the first North American rider to capture overall win in the UCI America Tour.
Or rather, the 30-years-old rider born in Canberra, Australia, represents an USA squad, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team, and his hometown in the United States, Boulder, Colorado.
This is where Sutherland won his best achievement, a stage on the USA Pro Challenge-Tour of Colorado – his major success this season, ahead of the Tour of the Gila and the Tour of Beauce.
How do you see your final victory in the 2011-2012 UCI America Tour overall? This is a nice added bonus that intervenes in the term of a long season. It shows to me that I have been doing the right things and following the right path for me as a rider. As the UCI continues to grow its global reach, each continental tour takes on more significance. To win the UCI America Tour is also a great final, thanks to our team UnitedHealthcare, my team-mates and sponsors. I appreciate the way our team has worked together and proud of the results we managed to obtain. When did you feel it was possible to win the overall ranking? You know, the team has never aimed at the UCI America Tour as a goal. It's something that when you are consistent, it kind of happens by itself. After the USA Pro Challenge-Tour of Colorado, in August, we figured out that I was probably leading the overall ranking. The race was a huge race with a deep field. Winning a stage there and elevating my UCI America Tour title was a manifestation of motivation. So, the Tour of Colorado was definitely your best achievement this year? Yes, I won the stage in Flagstaff Mountain, in my adopted home town of Boulder, in front of my friends, family and twenty odd thousand fans on a final five-kilometer climb that I know well. The race was broadcast on the TV on national and international channels and that added value also. Really it was a pretty cool moment. Do you think your final victory in the UCI America Tour helped you to join the Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank in 2013? That's a tough question. Do the points I gained help my new team [in the qualification system, Ed]? Of course they do. But in the discussions I have had with the Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank that isn't why I was hired. I generally think riders should be hired on their ability, results and potential better than on their points. "Big American races rival anything in Europe in terms of fan support" How would you compare the races in America and in Europe? In North America there's obviously a huge history of criteriums and UCI races, but now we are seeing these bigger, greatly supported and sponsored races like Tour of California, Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge-Tour of Colorado. I think these bigger races rival anything in Europe in terms of difficulty and fan support. The Grands Tours remain of course in a different league, but I really think the fan support and interest in the USA is still building. How do you see this interest raising? If you look at the amount of spectators at the big events here you see how much people are getting into the sport. Even take Cyclo-cross, something that is drawing the crowd and participants. Places like the US obviously don't have the same history in cycling as European countries do, so I think people come to races more for the spectacle and atmosphere of something different than they do to sometimes see specific riders. What about cycling in South America? I raced there once, last year, on the Tour of San Luis, in Argentina. It was a great experience. Cycling is incredibly popular in South America, yet there aren't many high profile events there. It's fantastic that in this sport we are able to experience so many different cultures and see so many amazing places. That is one of the draws to cycling for me, the adventure. As you lived and raced this year in the United States, did you consider the UCI America Tour as a goal like an African rider could target the UCI Africa Tour? I certainly love to race in the USA and I do live in Boulder, Colorado since I signed for the HealthNet-Maxxis team in 2007. There's a fantastic community and I feel very much at home. However I don't consider myself American. I grew up in Australia, have an Australian and British passport, lived in Belgium for five years, and lived in the USA for six. So I guess I consider myself a bit more like a citizen of the world...
As the countdown towards the 2013 Tour Down Under begins, CSN founder and co-director, Jamie Ford seems to have other things on his mind than doping confessions, Feeling the Breeze and World Tour cyclists!
Last Saturday, he tried his hand at outdoor cricket, lining up for the Helensvale Hawks (5th Division!), and as things worked out, the former Gold Coast U19 cycling champion and State silver medalist discovered that being umpteen kilograms overweight and hopelessly out-of-condition isn’t a good combination for a sparkling career in the “baggy greens”.
Despite bowling figures of 0/5 off two overs, and almost top scoring in the limited overs match, Jamie limped off the ground with a pulled back muscle and a little worse for wear, probably craving for the good old days when he was young and super fit, and once the conqueror of the great Danny Clark in an unofficial stoush at Coombabah back in the 90s!
CSN caught up with Jamie after the game, and discovered he is very much torn between his love of these two sports, as thoughts turn towards Adelaide in January:
CSN: You love your cricket, so it must have been a good feeling donning the box and pads?
Jamie: Yeah it was a long time in the making so I was remarkably nervous to be honest.
CSN: Who were you playing for?
Jamie: I play cricket for the Helensvale Hawks here on the Gold Coast.
CSN: How did you come to be playing last Saturday?
Jamie: I have been playing indoor cricket at top level for almost 13 years. However I had a 2 year break just recently for family reasons. During this time a few of us have always had the intention of playing outdoor cricket, but work commitments had stopped this from happening.
CSN: It wasn’t quite the Gabba, but was it all worth it?
Jamie: Haha depends on how you look at it! We played on a modified rugby ground so the boundaries were very short. Which, in my case, was a definite bonus!
CSN: I believe you had a few problems out there in the middle?
Jamie: Yeah I got called to bowl a few overs towards the end of the innings. The issue was, it was a 'last minute' decision which effectively meant I had no warm up. This later proved to be disastrous. I bowled well only conceding 5 runs in 2 overs, but when it came to batting, I quickly sprained a muscle on my left side and had to be taken off the field after 4 overs. I returned later to make some runs but got caught in the slips not long after. I basically couldn't bend my back or put any power into a shot. Was a disaster to be honest!
CSN: What was your form like on the day?
Jamie: Well to be honest, I was in fantastic form. I was fielding ok, bowling really well and seeing the ball like a beach ball while batting. It was just the injury that let me down on the day. I hope to come back in the next week or so to see how I go.
CSN : If your cricket opportunities had been as good as your cycling ones, in which sport would you have preferred to have had a senior career?
Jamie: Wow what a question! I think it would have been much harder in some respects to stay at the top of your game in cricket. However, there are some really good points about cricket. Seems to also have a much larger support here in Australia. In saying all that, I think my "natural" ability was with cycling.
CSN: Is this going to be a regular Saturday outing for you?
Jamie: Semi regular. Depends on my work with Sky Channel which is also on Saturdays. At the moment it looks like I can play every second Saturday.
CSN: It won’t be long before you’ll be hanging up your gloves and thinking about Adelaide and the Tour Down Under?
Jamie: Yeah not long now! CSN has been covering the TDU since our beginning. We are proud to be a part of this event every year. It’s exciting now that we have an Australian team involved.
CSN: What keeps you looking forward to going to the TDU?
Jamie: It’s such a well run event, and just the excitement that surrounds it, is very special. Even on a world scale, its right up there. Even the cyclists themselves are excited as it’s the first event for the year.
CSN: In the last few years what have been your main tasks in Adelaide?
Jamie: Actually I have been multi tasking for many years. I obviously do work for CSN on many levels (mainly in the morning and night) and during the stages themselves I have mainly been working for ABC Grandstand as an expert commentator for the live broadcasts. I also conduct many pre and post stage interviews for ABC too.
CSN: You have been taking the odd snap or two for CSN, do you fancy yourself as a bit of a sports photographer?
Jamie: I love photography. To be honest if I had a choice of cricket, cycling or photography... I would probably pick photography. The biggest issue is the money. If I could support myself, then I would be following the pro tour for sure!
CSN: Is Graham Watson’s job as risk?
Jamie: Haha no that’s impossible. Mainly due to the fact that he has been in it from the beginning. Basically he is part of the cycling culture. Just like Phil Liggett is for commentary.
CSN: Have you got an early tip for the 2013 Tour Down Under and why?
Jamie: Possibly a little early to predict at this point. Mainly because we are too far out to know who is coming to the race. The issue is, the TDU is so early in the season, it is hard to predict. Riders that most people know like Evans, Contador, Cancellara etc will either not race or be horribly out of form. The perfect example was watching Evans get dropped from a local Australian criterium a few years ago in January to see him almost win the Tour de France 6 months later. Form can change a lot in a few months. Interestingly Cancellara looks like he may skip the Tour de France next year and focus on the classics. This "may" bring his schedule forward a little more than usual. Otherwise it really depends on who can get over Old Willunga the fastest. And out of those riders... who has been sprinting the best during the first 3 or 4 stages. Someone like Gerrans may be in with a shot if his not too marked like last year!
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