Gorazd Stangelj (Astana) was a highly visible presence in the colours of Slovenian champion during Paris-Roubaix after bridging across to the day’s early break in the company of André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto). Remarkably, it was the 38-year-old’s first ever appearance in the Hell of the North, in his 15th season as a professional.
After contributing richly to the breakaway, an exhausted Stangelj crossed the line in 44th place, 4:46 down on winner Johan Van Summeren. He explained afterward that his presence at the head of the race was born partly of the fact that he had precious little experience on the pavé.
“This was my first Roubaix, I didn’t really know the route,” Stangelj told Cyclingnews. “It was definitely easier to stay out in front to tackle the sections of pavé because that way you had a better view of what was coming ahead and it was just a bit calmer. I think it was better that way.”
Stangelj’s role ahead of Paris-Roubaix was to attempt to infiltrate a break to protect the interests of Tomas Vaitkus, and the Slovenian was pleasantly surprised that he was able to perform so strongly on unfamiliar terrain.
“I didn’t expect to do a race like that because like I said, it was my first Roubaix,” he said. “I’d never seen the hard parts before, so it was hard to do it for the first time, but with a lot of grinta and desire, I got through it and helped the team.”
As the breakaway group fragmented following Johan Van Summeren’s attack, Stangelj suffered over the final sections of cobbles, and ultimately dropped back to finish in the Sylvain Chavanel group.
“If I’d known it was going to be so hard, I’m not sure if I’d have made it to the finish!” Stangelj joked. “At the end you don’t just see the signs counting down the kilometres to the finish, they’re also counting down the sectors of pavé, and by the last five I was barely able to keep going. It was a question of just getting to the finish.”
While Stangelj is a veteran of a number of top-level teams, including Fassa Bortolo, Saeco, Lampre and Liquigas, he explained that the opportunity to test himself in Paris-Roubaix had simply never arisen, as his teams had always sent him to ride the Ardennes classics.
“I’ve always done the later classics like Amstel, Flèche and Liège, but I’d never been asked to come here,” Stangelj explained. “Paris-Roubaix never seemed like a race that was suited to me, even though I’d always liked watching it on television.”
And next year? “We’ll finish this season first and then see how things pan out,” he smiled.
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.