For a low-key American team like United Healthcare to be lining up at the start line of Paris-Roubaix in the cobbled Place du Général de Gaulle of Compiègne on Sunday morning is an extra-ordinary feat. The young Pro Continental team led by Mike Tamayo managed to secure a wild card for the Queen of the Classics and is hoping to pay the organizers back with a splendid performance on the cobbles on Sunday.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon it was clear that the nerves were frayed when the boys in blue-white showed up at the team presentation. Leading the nervous young riders was Martijn Maaskant and experienced sports directors Roberto Damiani and Hendrik Redant who were not overawed by the setting at the crowded square in Compiègne.
"Don't underestimate us," Redant told Cyclingnews. "I've noticed that someone like Brad White is super strong. He hasn't done this race but of course we've been riding the cobbles the last few days. They're all very motivated and that's very important in this race."
"It's our goal to be in the early breakaway. Our sole leader is Martijn because he has most experience in this race. His role will be to stay with the best riders and see how far he can go in the finale. It'll be hard to beat the likes of Cancellara and Boonen but you never know. He must try," Redant said.
Maaskant, a 30 year-old Dutch rider, finished fourth in his first Paris-Roubaix back in 2008, and fourth in the 2009 Ronde van Vlaanderen. After that he was never able to repeat his impressive exploits in the Spring classics. This year Maaskant was still in the dark regarding his form. "I was good until San Remo but then I got sick so I didn't go well in[3-days of] De Panne. The last few days I felt great and also the recon went much better but I don't know what that will deliver," Maaskant said.
While Maaskant has to focus on making it into the finale his team-mates have to focus on getting in the early breakaway move that makes it into the live TV-broadcast. Sports director Redant realized his inexperienced riders were facing a difficult task. "Most guys probably saw seven cobbled stones in their life. Experience is important in this race. Then again, we have men who can ride their bikes so if they're in a breakaway they'll last a long time. With our outsiders we have a chance to get present ourselves as a team in a good way. Don't underestimate us. [...] They're all very motivated and that's very important in this unforgiving race," Redant said.
One of the inexperienced riders is Daniel Summerhill. The 25 year-old
American rider already has some good Roubaix experience as he featured in the front group of the 2008 edition of the U23-Paris-Roubaix, finishing seventh. During the reconnaissance of the course he got to ride through the famous Arenberg forest passage. "It's special," Summerhill said while bursting out in laughing. "It's in a class all of its own. It's unbelievable." After the E3 Harelbeke he told Cyclingnews that the nerves got to him the night before the race and one can only imagine what Paris-Roubaix does to a young rider. "It's so surreal for so many of us on this young American team that it still hasn't sunk in just yet but I'm sure it will quite soon. Probably tomorrow morning around 10am when we're on the start line, that's when it'll feel unreal. Right now, we're trying not too crazy the day before the race. Let the craziness happen tomorrow. It's so exciting. I've never seen so many people come just for a team presentation the day before a race so this is very special. I'm honoured to be a part of it."