Have bike, will travel. The neo-professional’s lot is rarely a meticulously pre-planned one and so it is that Evan Huffman finds himself thrown unexpectedly into Astana’s roster for Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.
The Californian was informed of his late call-up last week and he linked up with the Classics squad in Belgium on the eve of Wednesday’s Scheldeprijs. The 200-kilometre race in the Antwerp hinterland was Huffman’s first fleeting taste of the cobbles since a brief flirtation in his first year out of the junior ranks and he was glad to get in some practice ahead of the main event at the weekend.
“I never did the amateur Roubaix or anything, and I’ve only raced a little bit on the cobbles – in Belgium back in 2009 – so it’s going to be good to get a little bit more experience,” Huffman told Cyclingnews as he prepared himself for Scheldeprijs.
Not that Huffman has spent the past four years silently pining for the pavé. “Honestly, I didn’t really like it that much,” he said. “But it’s just the way it’s worked out with our team. We have more guys for the Ardennes Classics and there was an open spot on the roster, so I was happy to fill it.”
Rather than bemoan the lack of certainty that defines the new professional’s racing programme, Huffman has looked to embrace it. During his debut at the Tour of Qatar in February, the 23-year-old said he was determined to make the most of the sometimes random learning opportunities that might fall his way, and he approaches Paris-Roubaix as much as enthusiasm as trepidation.
“I’m a little nervous but I’m excited at the same time,” Huffman said. “I don’t have any expectations, just to finish would be a huge accomplishment in and of itself. I’ll just try and do the best I can and help my teammates.”
In recent weeks, Huffman’s diet of racing has been limited to the Settimana Coppi & Bartali and he has also had the additional concern of establishing himself in his European base of Girona, home to a small colony of American riders.
“Getting set up in Girona has taken some time and it’s been more stressful than I would have liked, but I’m pretty settled in at this point,” Huffman said. “I’ve been doing more training than racing, but recently but I’m feeling good. I train a lot alone actually, but I train with Andrew Talansky quite a bit when we’re both there because I already know him from living in California.”
On Thursday morning, Huffman and his Astana teammates were due to reconnoitre the sectors of pavé in the finale of Paris-Roubaix. Arenberg, Orchies and the Carrefour de l’Arbre may be engrained in the fabric of the sport but they were never really a theatre for Huffman’s teenage dreams. “It’s always a good race to watch but it’s not one that I’ve ever pictured myself going well,” he said. “But it will be good to get on the new Roubaix bikes and try them on the cobblestone sectors. At least I’ll have ridden it and that will ease my fears a little bit.”
Without a top-level contender at Astana – Jacopo Guarinieri and Dimitry Muravyev are expected to lead the line – Huffman will line up in Compiègne on Sunday morning without a specific remit beyond his own ambition of reaching the famous old velodrome in Roubaix.
“I think I’m just going to do my best and see how it plays out,” he said. “It could be a good situation for me to try and get in an early break, but then again, a lot of guys want to do that. I’m just going to go out there and try, and see what happens.”