John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) has the best memories of Paris-Roubaix. He won it in 2015 and, after having his career nearly ended in a road accident in January of the following year, his victory on the cobblestoned stage 9 of the Tour de France last year gave him back his confidence.
Degenkolb describes that Tour victory, on a stage which covered much of the Paris-Roubaix course, as "a real game changer", and he has remained healthy and uninjured since then.
"It came at the end of a very hard part of my career and that’s what made it so special. It was a very big relief; it was the first big victory for me since the accident. All the pressure, all the hard work you’ve put in, you can finally leave that behind and that makes it very emotional," the German said in a team press release.
"I was always chasing back. Now, I really have the feeling that I am - condition and shape-wise - on a very stable base and that gives me a lot more confidence."
Paris-Roubaix is Degenkolb's favourite race, and he noted his team have a special bike, the Trek Domane specifically designed for the cobbles of northern France. "That shows how important it is to get everything right," he said. "It’s one of the toughest races and it’s extremely special that we still race on exactly the same roads as 120 years ago."
Summing the race up, he added: “You can get a lot of bad luck, that’s for sure, but there’s one rule in this race: never give up.”
So far the Spring Classics have been more down than up for Trek-Segafredo, with the riders publicly apologising for the poor performances in the earlier races. Gent-Wevelgem looked like the breakthrough, as Degenkolb finished second for his first Classics podium since 2015. A mechanical destroyed his chances in Milan-San Remo, and the team put in another disappointing performance in the Tour of Flanders.
If Degenkolb should falter, Trek-Segafredo can look to Jasper Stuyven, who has finished fifth and fourth the last two years. An illness before Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne was not the best preparation but a top 20 finish in the Tour of Flanders gave him a big confidence boost.
"It was the first day in the whole year where I felt really close to the Jasper I should be and it’s maybe just on time to finish high on Sunday," he said.
Talking about the challenges of Paris-Roubaix, he added: "You get a lot of hits on the bike, a lot of them you don’t even expect, but dealing with those unexpected hits is also what makes it nice and makes it hard when you’re on the limit. It’s something that you don’t have in any other race, all that together makes it nice to ride on the cobbles."
Degenkolb and Stuyven will be supported at the race by Koen de Kort, Alex Kirsch, Ryan Mullen, Mads Pedersen, and Edward Theuns.
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