To beat Europe’s hardest pavé, it needs more than big balls. You also have to bring some tactics, skills and, of course, the right preparation. We spoke with Paris-Roubaix winner John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo to get professional tips for the Paris-Roubaix Challenge. Here are seven answers to the seven most important questions.
1. What is the right dose of Belgian beer before (previous evening) and after the race?
You should better ask the many fans on the course, not the riders. If you want to start at the Paris-Roubaix Challenge on Saturday and try to test yourself, how hard the pavé is, two or three Belgian pints could help calm the nerves a bit.
Okay, but seriously now, we are unfortunately steering clear of the beer–at least before the race. After the pro race there might be one in the team hotel. One! And maybe a message from us to the fans: Celebration is great, but not so that you endanger us in the race. Please!
2. With more than 70 km of Pavé, not without good reason Paris-Roubaix is called “The Hell of the North”. How to avoid sore fingers?
“Not without good reason” is definitely true! Paris-Roubaix is a hell of a race. Brutally hard, not only because of the pavé, but also because the race is extremely competitive and positions are constantly fought for. Even before we hit the pavé, the race is already full on, you’re constantly on the limit.
On the pavé the two most important things are speed and as much free travel of the bike as possible. A condition for both is to get as far forward in the peloton and enter the pavé sections amongst the first riders. Only if you achieve this you can make line choices, so as not to end up on the worst pieces. It’s hard to say what the best line is. If it is dry, you can sometimes ride on the small turf gutters at the edge, if it is too muddy, often the middle of the track is the best choice, known as the crown.
If you are in front, it means: simply full throttle. The more speed you have, the less painful the strokes are. And maybe a tip, which now seems to be quite absurd, don’t claw the hands around the handlebar! This will surely give you blisters, which will remind you of the ride two weeks later. Just hold the bars with a loose grip, just tight enough so you don’t lose contact with the handlebars.
3. What do you change on your bike for the race?
Not that much. Wider tires, which are ridden with less pressure than usual. This also brings the most comfort, if you can speak of comfort at all. And maybe we will also re-assemble a brake lever on top of the handlebars to react quickly to the pavé when you’re hands are not in the drops or hoods.
4. What is the toughest section of Paris-Roubaix, where you have to fight mentally the hardest?
The sectors are categorised by difficulty, one star is considered easy, whereas a four star section is pretty evil and the fives are real hell. The worst part is certainly the Trourée d’Arenberg, the piece in the forest of Arenberg. Here it is always moist, moss on the pavement, so it is extremely slippery, even if the rest of the course is dry. But the further into the race, even the more simple sections are really hard. That’s because it becomes increasingly difficult to ride with full power over them. The last five-star section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre is particularly painful.
5. How do you try to re-energise between the Pavé sections?
Always stay well within the rider in front draft, just off their back wheel so you don’t waste anymore energy than is necessary. This is easier said than done, because in hardly any other race do you have to be as attentive. From the very first pavé section you have to constantly be on the ball.
6. After suffering through Saturday’s challenge, of course you want to support the professionals on the Sunday. Where is best to cheer?
Ideally everywhere, of course (laughs). No, the best fan spots are definitely on the pavé. But if you want to be at the famous Arenberg and L’Arbre you should rock up early to get a spot in the front row. Anyone who does it cleverly can also cheer us at different sections, because often they are very close together.
7. What should not be done on the Pavé?
Stop or drive freehand, that’s definitely not a clever idea. And please don’t take stones as souvenirs – there are already enough holes, we really do not need there to be any more!
John, thank you for your tips and we wish you all the best for the Hell of the North. Allez!
If you want to join the Paris-Roubaix Challenge spontaneously, you can register here: parisroubaixchallenge.com
Thanks to Guilty76 there are also coupon codes for the registration, so you’ll save 10 €.
– We recommend the 172 km distance (the real Hell of the North), the discount code for this is: G76172
– Alternatively, the 145 km route (also Hell enough), the code for this is: G76145
– For the Paris-Roubaix introduction course (70 km) the code is: G7670
Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Julian Mittelstaedt, Trek