WorldTeam Philippe Gilbert: “Whoever stays upright the best, will win Paris-Roubaix.”

Former winners Gilbert and Degenkolb preview the 118th edition of Paris-Roubaix.
Race 02 October 2021

14 April 2019. On this day, the most recent edition of Paris-Roubaix was held and won by current Lotto Soudal rider Philippe Gilbert. No less than thirty months later, the riders finally return to the ‘Hell of the north’. It’s a weekend full of racing as on Saturday, the first-ever edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes will take place. On Sunday, the men will take on a 257-kilometre course between Compiègne and the Roubaix velodrome, including 30 cobbled sectors. In addition, the predicted weather conditions will possibly make for a heroic edition.

“It’s rather bizarre that after two and a half years, I am still the reigning Paris-Roubaix champion”, Philippe Gilbert begins. “It’s always an honour to start with race number one and that is even more the case in Paris-Roubaix. Despite the race number, I am not part of Sunday’s favourites. I will be at the start without any stress, I just want to have fun.”

After a first recon on the cobbles, Gilbert already knows it: after a long wait, we’ll get a memorable edition of Paris-Roubaix.

“Certain sectors are really slippery, it will be chaos. I have raced in snow, extreme heat and cold but I never experienced muddy conditions, so it will be a new experience for me as well. However, you can’t compare it to cyclocross because the surface and tires for example, are completely different. I rewatched the images from 2002, the last wet edition of Paris-Roubaix and no one really went fast on the cobbles. That is why not the fastest rider but the one who can stay on his bike the best will win Paris-Roubaix.”

(Read on below the image.)

Despite winning the French cycling monument in 2019, Philippe Gilbert doesn’t consider himself as a Roubaix specialist.

“Actually, I don’t have tons of experience in Paris-Roubaix as this will only be my fourth participation. So I am far from an expert and I can still learn from my teammates. What I do know is that it’s easier to win Paris-Roubaix when you still have a lot of teammates left in the race. This is already a rule of thumb in general, but it’s even more important in Paris-Roubaix. The Hell of the North is also a race which can produce some surprises, the early breakaway sometimes provides nice opportunities. That is why I think it will be a huge battle for the breakaway and with the predicted tailwind, the first 100 kilometres will be really fast”, concludes Philippe Gilbert.

Also John Degenkolb knows what it feels like to win Paris-Roubaix as the German Lotto Soudal rider was victorious back in 2015. However, a crash at the past World Championships in Flanders disrupted the preparation for this favourite race.

“First of all, I am extremely happy to be at the start on Sunday”, John Degenkolb said. “In the beginning of the week, I still had a lot of pain but fortunately the healing process is going quite fast. I was able to do some training rides and I feel better every day. However, I need to adjust my ambitions for Paris-Roubaix due to that nasty crash, which has clearly had an impact. But with the predicted weather conditions, I really don’t want to miss out on an epic day. In a ten-year career, in which I was at the start of Paris-Roubaix almost every time, you just have to ride a wet edition. I am looking forward, but I’m quite nervous as well. It will be a real spectacle, that’s for sure and choosing the right lines will be crucial. When you have to adapt your trajectory, it’s already too late. That is why riders who choose the best lines and who can handle the bike the best, have the biggest chance to stay upright.”

Images: Facepeeters.

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