By Brecht Decaluwé in Roubaix, France
His team-mates might call him 'Sleepy Martijn' for his tendency to oversleep and his relaxed demeanor off the bike, but young Dutch rider Martijn Maaskant (Slipstream Chipotle Presented By H30) showed he knows exactly when to use his energy and when to conserve when he rode to a brilliant fourth place in Sunday's Paris-Roubaix.
Maaskant put in strong performances in the semi-Classics and in the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but he was not the Slipstream team's main player in the 'Hell of the North': that honour went to 2004 winner, Swede Magnus Backstedt. However, the heavy-lidded youngster was the one that survived the selection in the 'Trouée d'Arenberg', while Backstedt suffered a mechanical setback in this critical point of the race.
The 24 year-old Maaskant took over the role of leader, riding well above his age and experience. As more and more pavé sectors were flying past, the Dutch man was still featured in the front. When Johan Vansummeren jumped away deep into the finale he was only joined by seven other riders, including most favourites as well as Maaskant.
When this group solidified into the winning move, Maaskant didn't shy away from doing his part of the work in the group. Eventually, the Dutchman had to pass when Boonen, Ballan and Cancellara attacked but still, he managed to sneak away from 2006 winner Stuart O'Grady, Leif Hoste and Ronde van Vlaanderen winner Stijn Devolder in the final kilometres of the race. "I sneaked away from them in a Zoetemelk-way," the Slipstream rider smiled when he referred to one of the best Dutch cyclists ever, Joop Zoetemelk.
"This race is really a big deal," Maaskant pointed out that Paris-Roubaix is the most heavily followed one-day race by the U.S. audiences. "A lot of people that support Slipstream flew in from the U.S. to follow this race. Some of them even rode over the cobbles during the last couple of days. It's the only one-day race that has some name abroad and for them this is really sensational."
Clearly Maaskant realized he had pleased his sponsors more than a little with his exceptionally strong performance. "Silently I hoped for a top-15 result but I didn't expect this," said Maaskant after coming in as fourth on the vélodrome in Roubaix. While his directeur sportif Jonathan Vaughters had presaged a strong performance from his young charge, Maaskant surprised more than a few with his finish. In hindsight, the pundits could have looked back to his results earlier this month where he had been showing glimpses of his talent in the rainy semi-classics. In the Ronde van Vlaanderen Maaskant finished twelfth, and in the Monte Paschi Eroica he finished fourth behind some familiar names: Cancellara, Ballan and the now injured Linus Gerdemann.
"In the Ronde van Vlaanderen last week I lacked course knowledge. Today was different because I've ridden here three times in the U23 version of Paris-Roubaix," Maaskant explained that he knew how to ride the cobbles. The U23 race, to which Maaskant refers, is a race that offers team scouts a good look at many young riders' talent. Former winners in the mini Paris-Roubaix are current professionals such as Yaroslav Popovych and Koen De Kort. On the other hand, two-time winner Tom Boonen has never won the U23 version of Paris-Roubaix. So clearly, we shouldn't focus on the winners only. Maaskant from his side had his best result in 2004 when he finished ninth. "That was in the rain, so for me it wouldn't have been bad if it rained," Maaskant smiled.
Maaskant came to Slipstream from the strong Rabobank Continental Team where riders like Sebastian Langeveld, Robert Gesink, Laurens Ten Dam and Thomas Dekker all had their home. When he wasn't offered a contract on the Rabobank ProTour team, he didn't hesitate to take Slipstream up on its offer.
Next week the Dutch young man will enjoy a home race, with the Amstel Gold Race featuring as next Spring Classic. "I'm very happy with my fourth place as it offers me prospects for the future. I'm busy taking one of the last steps, and the one that lacks is winning. I'm going for it!"