2005 marks Henk Vogels eleventh year as a professional. It's a journey that has seen him begin in Belgium, move to France, head west to America, and now return back to Belgium, a place where he feels he belongs as a bike rider. On the eve of the 103rd Paris-Roubaix, Cyclingnews' Anthony Tan speaks with a man who has come full circle.
Two days before the biggest one-day classic of the year, how is Henk Vogels feeling?
"I feel great," he says in a sprightly tone to Cyclingnews, sprawled out on his bed at the Holiday Inn in Gent Expo. "I haven't had the ideal preparation as far as races go, but in Gent-Wevelgem, I felt quite strong - the crosswinds there were brutal, there was a lot of splitting in the peloton, and I seemed to be in every move, which you can't just fluke."
That morning, Vogels and his Davitamon-Lotto team-mates for Paris-Roubaix reconnoitred the new 'secteurs' that includes the removal of the Arenberg Forest but more undulating terrain, with many believing the 2005 Hell of the North parcours to be the toughest in years. "There are sections which are vicious and the climbs - but that I mean small rises in the roads that when you're on cobbles feel like mountains - in between sections are going to sort things out," Vogels predicts.
In excluding Arenberg - a place known for its history of bad crashes - from this year's race, Vogels applauds the move: "I think Arenberg is like a tree standing in the middle of a descent - it's just something you have to avoid," he says dryly. "You know with the history of my falls, I don't want to see anyone crash."
It's easy to forget that it was around two years ago that the 31 year-old Australian suffered the worst crash of his career, with some believing him to be dead at first. However, in the style of Museeuw, Pantani, Sunderland and O'Neill, Vogels has staged a courageous comeback to the highest level, earning a ride with one of the best teams in the world. "It's one of the reasons why I'm back here, in Europe, in the European pro peloton - because I love the Classics so much," he says.
In returning to Brakel, Belgium, Vogels' professional cycling career has now come full circle. Exactly one decade ago, he started out as a fresh-faced 21 year-old at Novell (now known as Rabobank), forging a reputation as one of the best Classics riders in spring, before a lucrative offer saw him migrate west for a successful five-year stint in America.
But during his time in the States, the Classics were always calling. Two top 10 places in Paris-Roubaix is hard to ignore. And it's one of the reasons why his name was on the eight-man list of riders in a team that holds the 2003 race winner.
"Riding over the cobbles with Van Petegem, Van Bon, with guys who have won it, been on the podium or are serious contenders - being part of that team, it was a good feeling," he says. "It gives me goosebumps just thinking about those stones..."
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