GreenEDGE goes into the Pairs-Roubiax without its key cobbled classics man, Sebastiaan Langevelde, who broke his collarbone in a collision with a spectator.
A big favourite, the fabulous Fabian Cancellera, also smashed his collarbone a little earlier in the same race.
An article this week on The Roar said that this is Baden Cooke’s chance at Paris-Roubaix, and GreenEDGE also has a former winner in its ranks in captain Stuart O’Grady. But first let’s look at what the Hell of the North means to cycling here in Australia and around the world.
The Paris-Roubaix is organised by the Amaury Sport Organisation, the family group that organises the Tour de France among others like the Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Vuelta España, and even the famous Paris-Dakar Rally.
It is described as the most vicious cycling race on the World Tour calendar. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) said Paris Roubaix was like “they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter.”
Chris Horner, as an aside, is 40 years old – that is master’s category three – yet came second in the Tirreno–Adriatico and is climbing well in.
So what makes Paris-Roubaix so special? It is a race of attrition. You have the cobblestones and some climbs, you must always stay in front. There is a bunch sprint every time they lead into a section of cobblestones, every team trying to make sure their leader is in the best position.
This is a strength of GreenEDGE. They have lots of depth and are willing to put personal ambitions aside for team succes, which was so obviously shown by Daryl Impey winning stage two of Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco even though Allan Davis was designated sprinter.
Alby even timed his sprint to ensure Impey’s victory.
GreenEDGE is a team with riders from five continents, and riders who don’t fit into the classic mould. All cyclists and staff have heart, passion and perseverance. This is a champion team with a team of champions. The musketeers of cycling, they stick by ‘all for one and one for all’.
The roads in the recent Tour of Flanders are used daily and are smooth, while the roads in the Roubaix are only used by tractors… brave tractors.
This means the setts (French for pavers) are jagged and at odd angles. The bikes for Roubaix are specially designed, riders changing their bikes and bike geometry, which they are usually reticent to do. Some ride with heavy steel frames and with thicker, wider and heavier tyre and wheel combinations.
Going over cobbles at high pace requires power and speed. If you were to sink into the cobblestone and hit the next cobble hard after the gap it would be a disaster for your bike and body.
Some say it’s a lottery, but it’s a lottery where you can improve your chances with good positioning, good tactics, and a brave heart.
Stuart O’Grady credits a puncture in the Forest of Arenberg as instrumental in his 2007 win. He was in the leading break and had to drop out due to a puncture. He then waited for the peloton and ate every bit of food he had. To quote Scott Sunderland, the Sports Director at Team CSC, this allowed O’Grady “to go off like a exploding bomb.”
GreenEDGE’s contingent at Paris-Roubaix will be Baden Cooke, Brett Lancaster, Jens Keukeleire, Matt Goss, Matt Wilson, Stuart O’Grady, Svein Tuft, and Tomas Vaitkus.
My surprise pick from GreenEDGE is not my sentimental favourite, O’Grady, or my academic pick, Baden Cooke. My gut feeling is that it will be ‘Canadian Wildman’ Svein Tuft, someone who can put power to the pedal. He’s the 2008 UCI Time Trial Silver Medallist and is in wicked form.
The ride at the front for stage two of the 2012 Tirreno-Adriatico was simply described as the “ride of the millennium”.
This gut feeling is because on the road GreenEDGE mates will look at each other and pick who is the best, and as long as Svein has not destroyed himself down the road for the team, they will be looking at him as a possible winner. I will be looking for the maple-leaf-clad bomb to go off.