By Hedwig Kröner in Compiègne
German squad Gerolsteiner, which has been on a roll lately with Stefan Schumacher winning the Circuit de Sarthe and scored some good placings at other races, too, has a few riders to build on at this Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
David Kopp, who finished an excellent second at this week's Gent-Wevelgem, told Cyclingnews at the team's presentation on the eve of the race that he will be one of the contenders at Gerolsteiner. "I'm in good form, so I think I will be one of the leaders - because we do have two or three riders who have been preparing well for this race and who are also in form," Kopp said. "We will certainly not race for a single leader." Nevertheless, the young German's experience in the 'Hell of the North' is limited, as he explained.
"I have ridden Paris-Roubaix only once, in 2003, and I abandoned at the second feed zone as I had seven punctures up to then," Kopp explained. "I hope that won't happen again this time! But you can't compare the two races [Gent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix - ed.]. On Wednesday, there were only two flat cobbled sections, and tomorrow there will be more than 50 kilometres of pavé! That's totally different, and the race is 60 km longer, too. It will be much harder."
Nevertheless, Kopp is happy to be there and motivated for a good result. "I'm in good shape and looking forward to the race," he added. "I just hope that everything will be fine; that we'll be lucky in terms of mechanicals and, above all, that we won't have any bad crashes. That's still the main thing."
His teammate Heinrich Haussler, who won two stages at this year's Vuelta a Murcia, should also be a man to watch in the Queen of the Classics. The German-Australian, who moved to Germany in his teens and speaks fluent German, finished in 25th position last year when he first participated in the race. Moreover, he is eager to make amends for a messed-up Tour of Flanders last week...
"I wanted to race really well in Flanders, and had prepared all winter for it," Haussler said. "I was too far in the back of the race when the split occurred at the Koppenberg. There was no chance to get back to that 40-some front group - except if your name happens to be Tom Boonen! Anyway, I was very disappointed, and my morale just disappeared. I just wanted to forget everything about it. Now, I'm focused on Paris-Roubaix, which is my second season goal after Flanders. I don't put too much pressure on myself, but I really do want to race well tomorrow. To prove it to myself."
Paris-Roubaix has put a spell on Haussler ever since he first raced it last year. "I like the length of the race - when I finished last year I was absolutely knackered; it was so painful. But then and there I knew that I wanted to be there again next year, and I hope to be able to win the race some time. For tomorrow, I aim for top ten - but I'll also need some luck for that."
Another, more experienced rider at Gerolsteiner is of course Frank Hoj. But the tall Dane complained about his form, and knows that he will not be a sole leader tomorrow. "My level of fitness has been evolving too slowly," Hoj said. "Because of that, I'm not the only team leader as Haussler and Kopp are also in form. In the Tour of Flanders, I wasn't riding well; probably because I was too nervous. Of course, I hope to be there tomorrow - it's my job to do so."