Roger Hammond says Sir Bradley Wiggins has the talent and commitment to end his career as a Sky rider with the Paris-Roubaix win he is targeting this April – but warns that he will need a strong team supporting him, and a fair slice of luck.
Hammond is the most successful British rider ever over the Paris-Roubaix pavé, the only man from these shores to make the podium, finishing third in 2004, and he also finished fourth in 2010 and seventh in 2007.
Speaking to Timothy John for Rouleur magazine after Team Sky confirmed yesterday that Wiggins’ contract had been extended through to the end of April to allow him to take part in the Queen of the Classics, Hammond outlined several factors that will influence Wiggins’ chances.
First is the dominance of the two riders who between them have won seven of the last 10 editions of the race – four-time winner Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara, who has triumphed on three occasions.
Hammond says they are the two riders with the ability to “change fortune and bring the race back under control after bad luck, whereas everybody else in the race were contenders as long as everything went well for them and there were no issues.”
Luck can play a big part in determining the outcome of the race, and for Hammond it was a case of playing a numbers game to maximise his chances.
“For me, I needed to start Roubaix as many times as I could, just so that the stars would hopefully align on one of the 10 occasions that you rode,” he explained.
“You do make your own luck, but in that race there are so many issues that go on, that I felt I needed to start it as many times as possible.”
Wiggins himself has raced Paris-Roubaix on seven occasions, although only twice in the past seven editions, and as Rouleur points out, his big wins, from the track to the road, have come when he has been able to control the variables – something that is impossible in this race.
Many were surprised at Wiggins’ top-ten position last year, with his previous highest finish being 25th in 2009.
Hammond, however, believes the Sky rider’s performance last April reflects his understanding of the nuances of the race, and the Madison-Genesis manager insists skill over the pavé is not as important as is often assumed.
“There are two secteurs – Carrefour and the Arenberg Forest – where you need to be able to ride cobbles,” he said.
“For all the other sections, the race is won and lost in the three and four kilometres before the cobblestones. The hardest bit of Paris-Roubaix for me were the sections before the cobbles. That’s where the fight really took place.”
“Lots of guys just race the cobbles, but the mindset for me was ‘cobbles, recover’ and make sure you’re ready for the acceleration on the other side of the cobbles, the next secteur. There’s a bit of tactics involved, but Brad obviously understands them because he was so good last year.
"He’s a great athlete and a very powerful bike rider. The way the race is run, it suits a guy with an incredible turn of speed for a short period of time. Roubaix is all about making big efforts and recovery. I used to see it as a 250km interval session.”
Hammond said Wiggins will need as much support from his team mates as possible, especially early on.
With Sky’s press release yesterday specifically mentioning Paris-Roubaix, it’s clear that the race is his last big goal with them and it is likely he will go into the race as their main hope for a win with a team built around him.
“The run-up to the first secteur of cobbles [which comes 98km into the race] is very long,” Hammond explained. “They start accelerating 15km or 20km out.
“Without a team, you can make it to the front, but you use a lot of energy … A person like Brad, I would have thought needs a team to help him save some energy.”
He said that one approach to riding Paris Roubaix is “to have a strong team that’s riding solely for you and to have them sitting on the front for that 15 or 20km.
“Ok, you’ll lose two or three guys, but that’s one of the most critical parts of the race out the way and you can hit those all-important first section of cobbles in the first 10. The first secteur is really easy: most of it you freewheel.”
He believes that Wiggins, whom he describes as “an extremely strong rider,” has the talent and the commitment to feature in April’s race.
“Put any really strong bike rider into a race that they’ve really set their heart on, and they’ll undoubtedly perform because they know they can do it, otherwise they wouldn’t put their name on the line,” he said.
“The other thing is, do you want to commit to it? There’s no point going into Paris-Roubaix worried about the Giro d’Italia in a month’s time. It’s got to be the focus. The moment that you make it the main goal for someone with the talent that he has, he’s going to be good,” he concluded.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.