Surprise will be the name of the game for Tony Martin and the Katusha-Alpecin team at this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix. Martin rarely gives too much away and he was coy on the details when speaking to Cyclingnews on Friday afternoon, but said that the team would try to mix things up.
"I can't tell you now the strategy, but we are not the favourite team so we will have to stay calm and look at what the favourite teams are doing. Sure, we will also plan some surprises, but I can't tell you now," Martin told Cyclingnews with a wry smile from the steps of his Katusha-Alpecin team bus after completing a recon of the opening 10 sectors of cobbles.
Katusha went into last weekend's Tour of Flanders with a watch-and-wait mentality, marking out certain climbs as potential threats. Martin was not on form at Flanders, missing the split and eventually retiring, and he admitted that he had been ill during the race. Kristoff, however, was right on the wheels of Quick-Step when they split the peloton on the Muur van Geraardsbergen and secured fifth place for themselves.
The move surprised some other teams, who had thought the Muur just a cursory addition to the parcours, but Martin believes a similar approach will be taken this Sunday, although perhaps by different characters.
"I think we will see the same. Maybe not from the same riders, but I think that it will be a really aggressive and a really hard race. I think the peloton will shrink from pave section to pave section. I expect a big fight from the beginning. It won't start easy," he said, adding that he believed the eight-man squad was better suited to the rigours of Roubaix than the hills of Flanders.
Friday's look at the cobbles was Martin's second in as many days, after previewing the whole thing on Thursday. "It was pretty hard because I already did a full recon yesterday, so today again I really tried to skip the cobbles and be next to the cobbles," he joked. "My fingers are hurting from yesterday so the feeling was not the best. Yesterday I felt better."
Martin and his teammates rode from Bousigny through the opening 10 cobbled sectors, calling it a day after the Arenberg. One rider that wasn't there, though, was Kristoff, whose flight to Belgium was delayed. Kristoff often competes in all the Classics going but chose not to ride Scheldeprijs on Wednesday and has spent the week between Flanders and Roubaix at home in Norway with his family.
Both Martin and Kristoff will assume leadership of the team on Sunday. Martin, who made his classics debut last season, showed his skills on the cobbles on a Roubaix-style stage of the Tour de France in 2015, and it's this race that that he's been looking forward to all spring. Last year, he was venturing into the unknown, but this time out he knows what to expect.
"I hope that I can perform well. It's actually my favourite race of all the spring Classics so I'm really motivated. It's hard to expect a result but I hope I can be in front and make a really good race," Martin said. "In this kind of race, we are better than at Flanders. I think we have guys who are better on the pave sectors.
"I'm more confident now. I know what's coming up. Last year, I was on the start and I didn't really know what to expect. Now I know what to expect. I also now go more like a leader and not like a supporter, like last year. It's a different role, but I'm happy about it. It's my favourite race. It's also the race that suits me the most so I'm pretty confident."
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