In the last of his Paris Roubaix trilogy Phil Gale talks to three very different riders tackling the Queen of the Classics for the first time

The Hell of the North has a fearsome reputation; the thought of attacking sections of pavé at 50 plus kilometres an hour and the risks involved are more than enough to focus any professional. The images of what happens when things go wrong, soft tissue smashing into the hard granite cobble stones, has been well documented throughout cycling’s history giving the race the status as the Queen of the Classics.

As the majority of the world’s media focused their attention on the big named riders of the 2012 event I dodged the scrum, wanting to see how it was for the Paris Roubaix virgins, those young first-timers.  I caught up with 3 different first-timers, to get their perspective on the Queen of the classics and how they felt about taking on the might of the strongest riders in the world at the toughest of races.

Laurent Pichon, Bretagne Schuller, 3rd year professional, 27 years old, France:

Bretagne Schuller is a team well known to me having raced full time in the region of Brittany for 6 years; the team got a wild card invitation to the race. I chatted with Laurent Pichon about his first time at the Hell of the North.

“This is only my second World Tour level race and the difference is huge. The riders at the front are the true champions. From the start you can tell everyone was more focused and stressed about the race. Our tactic was to get into the early break. I was going with as many moves as possible but nothing that I was with stuck. With over 96 kilometres covered in the first two hours it took a lot out of me. Then when we hit the cobbles it was a whole new race. Into each section you have to fight for position like a sprint finish which I was not prepared to do. Our team does not race much on the pavé so I was too tense, gripping the bars too hard and not so well placed when on each sector. This meant that I was behind the crashes and expended a lot of energy fighting my bike over the cobbles. Due to hand cramps and no blood in my fingers I climbed off at the second feed. The opportunity to ride Roubaix was incredible and good experience for the Tour of Turkey which I am racing soon. As for Boonen? Incredible.”

Blaz Jarc, Team NetApp, Neo professional, 24 years old, Slovenia:

German registered Team NetApp was taking part in their second Roubaix. Having recently been given a wild card for the Giro D’Italia this team has been catching the eye of the world’s biggest race organisers, not only with their aggressive riding but also with their documentary Against All Odds. I spoke with Neo-Pro, Blaz Jarc, their top finisher at the race.

“I was not that nervous before the race. You could tell that it was a big race and everyone was tense but our team had a good preparation for this race with many Belgian classics. Our plan was to get into the break like last year so all of us were really active at the start. With an average of 49kph in the first hour and a little less in the second, I was using a lot of energy. When the bunch rides at 50 kilometres an hour you have to attack at 60. With the favourites sat in the bunch out of the wind they save a lot of energy on you! We got a rider in the break, Janorschke, which was good. At the start of the Pavé sections one of our protected riders had a puncture so we had to wait and help him chase back. Whilst chasing, we got caught behind two crashes and only got back before Arenberg, where Janorschke had already crashed. After that it was head down and race in which ever group we were in. After the earlier efforts I was tired at the finish and ended up 70th. It was not the best day for the team but only two of our team raced last year. Now I am tired, my hands are very sore and also my saddle area. I am happy though because I am heading home after 2 months away to prepare for the Tour of Turkey. 

Taylor Phinney, Team BMC, 2nd year professional, 22 years old, USA:

Finally I chatted with Taylor Phinney. Twice winner of the U23 version of the race and touted as a future victor he was relaxed after finishing 15th. Surrounded by his family, watched by his proud father he told me about his race whilst the world’s media watched on.

“This race is perfect for me. I love the cobbles and know the course well. After the disappointment of not riding Flanders last weekend I was feeling good and fresh. We worked well as a team today and are really happy with our second place (note: this was before the final classification come out), Ballan did a great ride. Thor was in my group after his crash, but seeing how strong he was I knew he would have been able to help Ballan had he not fallen off.  I was nice and relaxed all day even though I was getting full-on quad cramps in the last 80km. The pace was not that much faster than the U23 version, but the distance makes it much harder. I was not with Boonen when he attacked, but know he was riding really well and super quick. The main difference is that all the riders are that much stronger so the pace before the sections of Pavé was really high. I am happy with today, helping the team and cannot wait for next year. The hands and body are fine now because the BMC GranFondo bike pretty much has front and rear suspension, making it really comfortable on the cobbled sections. I did not bother to tape my wrists and hand like the other riders, I am a man! Next up for me is the Giro de Trento and then the Giro D’Italia. The Roubaix, Amstel double is too much at the moment, but with its shorter climbs it might be a race for me in the future.”

As the rain started to fall riders disappeared into their team buses to stay warm. Thanks to Laurent, Blaz and Taylor for their words giving us a slightly different angle to this challenging race.