The Thursday before Paris-Roubaix is officially day one of the pavé reconnaissance, with numerous teams out riding on the cobbles to test their equipment, make decisions on tyre choice and pressure, and mentally prepare for Sunday’s big race.
Some teams did winter rides on the cobbles, and the likes of Team Sky and Orica-GreenEdge were in northern France on Tuesday and Wednesday, but on Thursday the side roads at the end of the Carrefour de l’Arbre sector (number 4 on the countdown list of 27) were backed with team buses and cycling fans all waiting for the riders to emerge from the pavé. The Hell of the North is just 36 hours away.
Cyclingnews saw BMC, Cofidis, Katusha, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, Cannondale, Astana, Trek-Segafredo, LottoNL-Jumbo and Dimension Data out on the pavé. World champion Peter Sagan and his Tinkoff teammates are due to make their final reconnaissance on Friday morning, with Etixx-QuickStep covering the same roads just an hour or so later.
Most of the teams study the final 100km of the Paris-Roubaix route, started their rides in a supermarket car park outside of Denain, to ensure they see the conditions on the long and often important Trouée d'Arenberg, which often shakes up the races and causes the first selections in the peloton.
Cutting left and right across the barren countryside of Northern France, the riders covered the remaining 17 sectors from the saddle, learning to select the best line –either on the central crown of the cobbles or along the narrow slip of dirt between the pavé and the grass on either side. They also studied the wind direction, which can dramatically help or hinder any attacks, all as they tested their bikes and tyres.
The Katusha team and leader Alexander Kristoff stopped several times during his ride to adjust his tyre pressure. As a result his Russian teammate Viacheslav Kuznetsov was first to the team’s big red bus, perhaps indicating he could again be a contender after going on the attack early and securing third place at Gent-Wevelgem. Kristoff was next in, looking in pain as he reached the bus but happy with how he was feeling as the big day approached.
While most teams stopped after the Carrefour d’Arbe sector and quickly climbed into their buses, the Dimension Data riders, including team leader Edvald Boasson Hagen and Mark Cavendish, kept on going, riding all the way to the Roubaix velodrome. They even completed a lap of the iconic open air track. Cavendish later revealed to Cyclingnews that it was the first time he has even ridden on the track. He seemed captured by the mystique of the race and was looking forward to Sunday, despite playing a team role instead of being the leader.
Rolf Aldag – the Head of Performance at Dimension Data, was on hand, carefully checking the rider’s Cervelo bikes and talking to the riders.
“It was a good ride, we had all kinds of conditions – rain, hail, sunshine, dry, wet. You can’t hope for more,” Aldag told Cyclingnews.
“It’s about trying, testing, it’s about getting used to the rough cobbles, and also understanding the bike because some of the guys didn’t do too many cobbled races. We started in Denain and did 19 sectors. We did it to the end. A lot of teams stopped early but I think it’s important to understand what you’re doing in the final as well.”
Waiting for Fabian and Trek-Segafredo
The Astana team also rolled past the now restored restaurant at the end of the Carrefour d’Arbe sector, with Lars Boom almost being knocked down as fans begged and fought for a team bidon and filled the road to take photographs.
The Cofidis, Cannondale and LottoNL-Jumbo riders quickly disappeared onto the team buses to escape the cold, shower and relax on the trip back to their hotels in Belgium. Most teams will travel to Compiegne on Saturday for the final team presentation in the main square and spend the night in a local hotel.
Around a hundred fans stood waiting at the key point in the Paris-Roubaix route, most waiting to see the Trek-Segafredo team and of course catch a glimpse of Fabian Cancellara before his final ever ride.
Trek-Segafredo was the last team to complete their recon ride, with Cancellara riding on even a little further to study the sector in Gruson (number 3) before retuning to the team bus. The team chef had set up two electric stoves outside the bus and prepared crepes for the riders and staff.
Cancellara didn’t stop to speak to the fans or to grab a crepe. Spartacus already seemed focus and ready to race his last edition of Paris-Roubaix.
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