This week a question was raised on French TV: is Paris-Roubaix outdated and should it still be organized nowadays? That is an insult! It probably comes from a total ignorance of this sport. No bike rider is forced to take part and many professionals keep going to this race with a huge desire.
The same goes to the other races that feature cobblestones, gravelled or sandy roads like the Flemish classics, the Tro Bro Leon and the Strade Bianche. We even note the interest growing from the Grand Tour riders who are obviously looking for a perfume they can't smell in their specialty. It's great to see the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana getting a sniff of what it's like to ride on the pavé. They are eager to do it and they seem to like it.
As fans, let's not get carried away by the return of the great climbers to the Classics because at some stage the business savvy will prevail again.
Stage 9 of the Tour de France is a big deal this year. It's logical that it attracts some GC contenders to the cobbled Spring Classics. It can be a decisive stage in the Tour, maybe not for winning the Maillot Jaune but hopes can vanish in the north of France. In case of a bad weather or just wind, it can turn into disaster for some. Nobody can start the Tour thinking they've got nothing to be afraid of before the mountains.
Gilbert is the Quick-Step decision maker
It is great to see Philippe Gilbert back at Paris-Roubaix. The last time he rode it, it was with my team in 2007 (he finished 52nd). Since then, he was always skipped it in order to prepare for the Ardennes classics. He won't lack any experience on Sunday. He can win it and I've noticed in his lead up to Paris-Roubaix that he has puts himself in the situation to try. He has been very polite with his teammates so far… Quick Step as a team is the decision maker in the race but inside Quick Step, Philippe is the decision maker. So the key to victory belongs to him this year.
At Groupama-FDJ we have a chance to win too. Traditionally, we get a better result at Paris-Roubaix than at the Tour of Flanders. The French race suits Arnaud Démare more too. He's on the right track; he won stage 1 in Paris-Nice, was third at Milan-Sanremo and Gent-Wevelgem and then 15th at the Ronde. He finished sixth in Roubaix last year and he wasn't far behind the winning move.
The possibility of a Frenchman winning in Roubaix remains. We've never been as ready for it since Frédéric Guesdon triumphed on our debut as a team in 1997. Our team is competitive to support Arnaud but all depends on circumstances. We never know in advance what will happen at Paris-Roubaix. That's why it's the most modern of all bike races, not the opposite!
Paris-Roubaix is the race in which the riders can take the initiative in the racing. It's an adventure. Statistics, PowerPoint templates and computers don't interfere as much as in the other events. This is the real race! It's wild. It's a war. It's like going to the trenches with a bayonet.
Paris-Roubaix can take a lot from you but also give you a lot. I won it twice as a pro and when I crashed and broke a femur on my last participation (in 1994), I wasn't angry or bitter. It felt like I had to repay something back.
Anywhere I go since 1985, I'm introduced as a Paris-Roubaix winner. I often say that I'll take Paris-Roubaix with me to the cemetery. Interestingly, the course nears the cemetery of Orchies just before the cobbled section named after me. It's nice to have a commemorative plaque during your lifetime. Somehow, it makes me feels immortal…