Servais Knaven is getting goosebumps, not due to the cold weather but because Paris-Roubaix is around the corner. He helps direct team Sky on Sunday, 12 years after he escaped to win the race known as the Hell of the North.
“It’s the only race where I feel that I still wish I was racing,” he told Cycling Weekly.
He now has eight men to look after. Geraint Thomas heads the team, but the ranks include several heavy hitters like Bernhard Eisel and Mat Hayman. Ian Stannard and Edvald Boasson Hagen round-out Sky’s front.
In the past fews days, they have pulled themselves together after a Tour of Flanders beating. Yesterday they raced Scheldeprijs, but mostly thinking ahead to the Hell of the North.
Paris-Roubaix gets its nickname thanks to the cobble sectors, this year totalling 52.6 kilometres of the total 254-kilometre parcours just south of the Belgian border. It is just as hard, or worse, than Flanders last Sunday.
Thomas led Sky into the Tour of Flanders. He looked ready to strike as the race approached its final phases, but then a small crash took him out with 36 kilometres to race. With the help of Salvatore Puccio, he chased back. He was exhausted, though, when Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) started his attacks on the Oude Kwaremont.
Boasson Hagen remained, locked onto Cancellara and Peter Sagan but was unable to respond.
“We’ve been talking about Flanders, about getting better, about getting the good morale and good form back,” Knaven said.
“Maybe if [Thomas] didn’t have a wheel change, maybe he would’ve had a chance. At that moment, you hope he can still hang on, but being honest, it’s hard to make a big effort to come back and then 10 minutes later you have to make the biggest effort of the race. It was a real pity for G and the whole team. When you are there, you have the legs, it’s the worst that can happen.”
Reading into the result
Given the result, Sky appears two steps behind Cancellara and his RadioShack team. They drove the race nearly from start, cumulating with Cancellara’s Kwaremont attack.
The team General Manager Luca Guercilena told Cycling Weekly that the pressure would be on RadioShack to do the same in Roubaix. He expects the team to do so, but he also expects their rivals to make life difficult.
Knaven is planning Sky’s tactics.
“Cancellara will be the favourite again. You must not wait until Carrefour de l’Arbre [sector] or maybe a few sections before. If you are with him, maybe you can follow him, but looking at Sunday, it could be that you have to race for second,” Knaven continued.
“You need to be ready to attack him, but on Sunday there weren’t many moment where you could try something with a good chance of beating him. The speed was so high and his team was controlling the race well.
“How are they [RadioShack] going to do it? A few years ago , Fabian was the favourite, then the break stayed away. It’s so hard to predict a classic, you really have to see on the day what the best plan is. You have to be there and ready to take action, but it’s hard to know, you have to see the wind direction. A classic is totally different from [a Grand Tour].”