By Gregor Brown in Compiègne
Dane Frank Hoj will have Cofidis team-mate Nick Nuyens backed in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix. The 35 year-old has had his share of pavé experiences, including 14th in 2002, and they give him confidence going into Hell "I will be strong tomorrow and I will be able to look after him."
"Everything is going well," confirmed the talkative Hoj to Cyclingnews Saturday morning in Compiègne, the day before cycling's most popular Classic. He was looking forward to the light training ride after having put in a strong session two day's previously.
"I will do an hour and a half today, two hours maximum," he continued, dressed head-to-toe in the red Cofidis gear, with the Danish flags of past champion on his collar. "Two days ago [Thursday - ed.], we did the piece before Arenberg [Forest] and then the rest on to Carrefour de l'Arbre, so we done almost the whole course. Then, yesterday, we just did one and a half hours. I know the course pretty well."
Hoj came close to personal glory in the "Queen of Classics" in 2002, however, last year he was forced to sit out due to a toe injury. "Last year, I did not even race. ... Once you are here, you appreciate it in a different way. I can't remember how many times I have done Paris-Roubaix, but at a certain point, you just take it for granted that you are here. Like last year, suddenly you realise that it is not going to last for ever and you had better enjoy it.
"My best memories have to the year when I thought I could bridge solo to [Johan] Museeuw, who eventually went on to win the race. However, they caught me with like 20 kilometres before the finish and Museeuw still won and, I don't know, I think I got 16th or something.
"However, it was just the feeling that I could catch him and win the race; even though I did not do it, it was that feeling. It is great when you have the feeling you are reaching for winning it is the best feeling you can have."
Six years on, he feels assured the team is able to do something good for its leader, Nuyens. "I feel convinced it is going to be a nice race and a good day."
He added that there is no team plan, "Well it is a secret," Hoj joked. "Nuyens is the best finisher. If Nick is there, of course it is going to be everyone for him. We have some other strong riders here as well. We will see what happens. Don't forget, that the classics have gone so well so far and we have a little bit less pressure than usual.
"Sylvain Chavanel had a really good Classics season," he continued, referring to the Frenchman's wins in Dwars door Vlaanderen and Brabantse Pijl. "I think he owes a lot to Nick for that. Nick made the doors open for him with his know-how. As a team, it is really fantastic to see stuff like that."
Last week, Hoj proved his strength in helping Nuyens make the key selection and finish second in his home Tour, Ronde van Vlaanderen. "We have not had our meeting yet, but I know I will be the one to look after Nuyens. I know I will be strong tomorrow and I will be able to look after him."
Finally, he revealed that bed weather is a positive factor. "Actually, I prefer rain, it is better for me because it will really chance the race. It is a completely different race when it is raining; you go much slower, it is slippery and it is much more technical."