Compiègne was shrouded in a thick, eerie mist this morning as it prepared to host the start of the 114th Paris-Roubaix. Rather symbolically, it started to lift as the team buses pulled into the main square in front of the Palace. The week-long build up, talk of favourites, weather, and tactics, was making way for the event itself.
With a tailwind forecast, the start time was put back by 10 minutes to 10:50am. Tom Boonen, who has sampled all sorts of conditions in the Hell of the North over the years, didn’t think the conditions would have too great an impact on the race.
“Fast is hard, and slow is hard,” said the four-time winner, who seemed in a cheerful and relaxed mood at the start line.
Fabian Cancellara, by contrast, was a picture of utter focus. The 35-year-old, well aware this was his last time at the start of Paris-Roubaix, was hunched over his handlebars, head down, completely in his own bubble.
Peter Sagan was his usual carefree self and had to be reminded by the podium announcer that every member of the Tinkoff team had signed on, except him.
“Good,” came the short reply when, having made his way through the mobs of fans and media, he was asked how he was feeling. Any nerves? “No.”
The world champion had his normal Specialized Tarmac, with the fancy custom paintjob out for the start of the race, as he plans to switch to the Roubaix model, with added shock absorption, ahead of the cobbles.
The Etixx-QuickStep team, by contrast, were all on Roubaix frames from the start. One thing all bikes had in common was the slice of paper taped to their stems, containing the details of the pavé sectors that await.
Chino and blazered men brandishing iPads has become a common sight at the start of races now, and the UCI were once again scanning for hidden motors or anything else that might constitute what it terms ‘technological fraud’.
All checks done, the riders gathered under the banner, in front of a packed crowd, as the sun came out to see them off. Rather fittingly, the square in Compiègne is cobbled – a little amuse-bouche ahead of the plat principal starting 100km later.
Quotes from the start line
Tom Boonen (Etixx-QuickStep)
“We really have the strongest team, so we’ll use the guys we have, and don’t do anything stupid. You can talk as much as you want, but in the race the riders will look at the guys who are there and look good. All the talk before the race doesn’t change anything in the race.
I’m ready, my form’s good enough to win today. It’s not as good as 2012 but it’s good.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data)
“You’re always a bit, not nervous, but there’s a bit of tension. You need to be up front at the cobbles, and watch out for Cancellara and Sagan.”
Lars Boom (Astana)
“I showed I was good at Flanders, and for sure I will try to show it again today. You have a small group, Cancellara, Sagan, Vanmarcke, and a few other guys.”
Tiesj Benoot (Lotto Soudal)
“I feel good, I improved every day this week, just my knees hurt a little, maybe on the cobbles everything will hurt again. But I feel confident, I’m just happy I was able to start today. It’s a case of surviving the day, not having crashes or punctures. If you have just good legs you can go very far here.”
Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep)
“I never been here so I still need experience but I’m looking forward to it, and hoping to do a good race. [Can you win?] Not this year…”
Daniel Oss (BMC)
“Without Greg all the team is pretty free. It will be a difficult race for us, maybe we have to anticipate maybe we wait, we’ll have to see in the race.”
Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep)
“I’m feeling good. It’s always special at the start of such a big race.”