While Steven Cozza had what he called "the coolest way to experience your first Paris-Roubaix" last year, making the early 11-man break, leading the race through the Arenberg forest and ultimately persevering through to the Roubaix velodrome, this year the 25-year-old California native is approaching his second start at the "Hell of the North" with a different game plan.
"My role will take more in the early part of the race, leading up to the Arenberg," Cozza told Cyclingnews. "We'll probably put 100 percent of our energy getting Martijn [Maaskant], Johan Van Summeren, Tyler Farrar and David Millar in good position going into the Arenberg forest. If we can get them in good position there we'll have four guys to take over after 160km."
The American ProTour squad reconned the critical pave sections of Paris-Roubaix on Thursday, taking in the sectors from the Arenberg forest all the way to Carrefour, and Cozza confirmed that he's fully recovered from his broken collarbone suffered in the Tour of Qatar on February 8.
"I was really surprised, I actually felt good on the cobbles," Cozza said. "My injury hasn't caused me any grief at all. The hardest part for me now is fitness. I only have eight or so race days in my legs while all the other riders have 20 to 30 races in their legs. My biggest challenge now is getting as much fitness as I can as fast as possible, plus getting distance in my legs."
While Cozza's fitness is not quite where it was as compared to last year's Paris-Roubaix, he's hoping his prior cobbles experience coupled with exceptional team morale will pave the way for his team's success.
"It's kind of a balance. I'm definitely not as fit, but I have a lot of confidence," said Cozza. "Confidence is a huge part of Paris-Roubaix, you have to believe in yourself. I know I can ride the cobblestones really well, I have good bike handling skills and I know the course like the back of my hand. I'm definitely better off this year going into the race for the second time.
"There's technique to riding the cobbles. Before last year I didn't know how important it was to spin more while you're riding the cobbles. I would always push too big of a gear but as the race went on I starting noticing other riders spinning more and I started doing it as well. You save a lot of energy that way."
During Garmin-Transitions' recon of the pave sectors, Cozza rode muddy cobbles for the first time. "It was kind of cool riding them muddy because I've never ridden the Paris-Roubaix cobbles in the condition they were today. You definitely have to approach them differently, take better lines and be really cautious because the cobblestones are super slick and on top of that they're the hardest road surface possible on Earth. If you crash on cobbles it does not feel good. You'll likely break a hip or break something, and crashes do happen and they will happen on Sunday."
Garmin-Transitions has multiple options to play this year regarding team leaders, a fortuitous luxury for a race with the potential for chaos on the road. "It comes down to whoever's going strongest on that day and we find that out pretty fast as the race goes on who's riding the strongest. If guys like Martijn and Johan are going strong, then Tyler's going to work for them. It's just all about teamwork when it comes to Paris-Roubaix. You really need a good team around you to win, and I think our team is definitely prepared for that."
Morale on the Garmin-Transitions squad couldn't be higher in advance of Sunday's Queen of the Classics with David Millar and Tyler Farrar showing exceptional form in victories at the Three Days of De Panne and Scheldeprijs plus a strong showing at last Sunday's Tour of Flanders.
"Flanders was a definite tough day for me. My job in that race was also to do all the work I could up to the Oude Kwaremont which is about at 180km. Tyler crashed twice so we had to bring him back up to the front at very fast moments in the race. A couple of guys got flats. I had to go back and get water bottles, musettes and vests and did quite a bit of work before the race really began.
"It definitely took a toll on me. But I did all I could to get Tyler back into the race and he ended up getting fifth. It paid off in the long run and it felt good to know that with me bringing him back up after his crash he was able to get back into the race.
"I don't know what's going to happen on Sunday, but I know if I do my job the best I can for my four team leaders, I'll be proud of myself despite whatever happens to my own race."