Etixx – Quick-Step ready for Paris-Roubaix
Tom Boonen, Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Tony Martin, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck will ride the "Hell of the North" on Sunday.
257 kilometers, 27 cobbled sectors and more than 6 million cobblestones: in short, this is what the riders will face on Sunday, when they will start the 114th edition of Paris-Roubaix, a race which, unlike other events, sticked to its roots throughout the years and came up with some memorable moments and fantastic winners, all hard men who fought not only with the course, but also with the nature. One of these is Tom Boonen, who showcased his talent almost a decade and a half ago, on a grim and rough April day, which saw him come third, after spending more than 200 kilometers in the break. Since then, the Belgian scored four wins in the "Hell of the North" and made a name for himself as one of the finest Classics riders ever.
This week-end, the now 35-year-old Boonen will line-up at the start of Paris-Roubaix for the 12th time, and awaits the race with maximum tranquility and confidence, having gone on a long road since December in order to hit the cobbles of northern France in a good shape: "This is the one day I was waiting for ever since returning to training this winter. I knew every day was necessary and important in order to be in the best possible shape and I am content with the condition I have now and with the fact that on Sunday I will be at the best possible level for me at this moment. I am more relaxed now, because I did everything that I had to do. The team is very strong and I am happy because I come at the start of the race with no injuries, which is very important."
Besides Tom Boonen, Etixx – Quick-Step – one of the most successful teams in the history of Paris-Roubaix – will field for this event an experienced and strong outfit, which includes Iljo Keisse, Nikolas Maes, Tony Martin, Zdenek Stybar, Niki Terpstra, Matteo Trentin and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck. The latter will replace Stijn Vandenbergh, who will miss the race which brings down the curtain on the cobbled season because of a saddle sore injury.
In addition to Tom, Etixx – Quick-Step will have another former winner in the squad, Niki Terpstra, who pulled off a great victory in 2014, after riding away from favourites' group inside the final 10 kilometers: "Paris-Roubaix is always special. It's hard to name just one thing that makes it so special, but what I can say is that I fell in love with it ever since riding it for the first time, as a 23-year-old. To come back to the start it's great and I can't wait for the race to roll out of Compiègne."
Ever since making his Paris-Roubaix debut, three years ago, Zdenek Stybar was always among the contenders and finished each time in the top 10. Last season, after a valiant effort, he came close to winning the French Monument, which he eventually finished as runner-up. That result came as further confirmation of the fact that Roubaix is a race very much to the liking of the three-time Cyclo-Cross World Champion: "The previous year I was better in Paris-Roubaix than in the Tour of Flanders, so I hope for the same now. It's never easy, everyone knows it's one of the hardest races in the world and the battle will be really fierce. I enjoyed the recon we did on Friday and I now I am looking forward to enjoying the race on Sunday."
It's not often that you get to make your debut in "The Queen of the Classics" as a 30-year-old, but this is exactly what Tony Martin will do this week-end, when he'll return to the French pavé less than a year after getting a fantastic stage victory in the Tour de France, on a course which included many of the cobbles which are to be used in Paris-Roubaix: "I have positive feelings going into the race. People have asked me if I'm nervous and I replied that I'm not nervous at all, but proud to be part of the team. Now I hope to have luck on my side, support our squad and, why not, play a role in the final."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele