German Professional Continental team NetApp has been invited to race this year's Paris-Roubaix on April 10. The 'Hell of the North' will be the first World Tour event for the young squad, and it is with great excitement that the outfit managed by Ralph Denk prepares to show itself in the best possible way for the one-day Classic.
"This invitation is a great honour for us, it's the result of our work in the last few months that we are allowed to present ourselves at this particular Classic. Paris-Roubaix will be the highlight of our Classics phase," said Denk. "I want to thank [race organiser] ASO for their trust.
"The whole team is euphoric and looks very much forward to the famous 'pavés'. We will be highly motivated at the start. But we measure our chances realistically - it will be hard to play a role in the finale. That's why we want to show ourselves early."
NetApp features several Classics specialists and even two former winners of the Espoir and Junior versions of Paris-Roubaix. German Eric Baumann won the U23 race in the year 2000, and Swiss U23 champion Michael Baer took the victory in the 2005 Junior event. But Denk knew that these accomplichments meant only very little in the light of the pro riders' race.
"The Elite race takes place on a different level. For our preparation, it's important that we have riders like Enrico Poitschke, Jesus del Nero and Steven Cozza that have raced the 'Hell of the North' during the last five years. There is probably no other race like this one where route knowledge is as important," Denk added.
Still, the team manager did not exclude any surprises for his riders, as the Queen of the Classics is known to be a particularly treacherous race. "Luck will be a major factor during the race: the right group in the right sector and fast help during mechanicals. Then, a lot is possible."
NetApp will be announcing its line-up for the 109th edition of Paris-Roubaix at the end of March. Until then, the team will be riding eight more Classics in Belgium and the Netherlands, notably Nokere-Koerse, Dwars door Vlaanderen, E3 Prijs Vlaanderen-Harelbeke, KBC-Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde, Hel van het Mergelland and Scheldeprijs.
"We have a core team around Barta, Baumann, Schillinger, Seubert and Cozza already schemed up. But [until then], the form of our Classics specialists must be at a top level and we have to avoid unlucky crashes," said Denk.