Coiled Spring

Coiled Spring
13th April 2015

A win in one of cycling’s one-day spring Classic races was, until this year, conspicuous by its absence from Team Sky’s palmares.

Ian Stannard’s victory at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad set a new benchmark at the end of February. Geraint Thomas’ victory at E3 Harelbeke a fortnight ago raised the bar. The Welshman’s success was also a popular one – the unassuming 28-year-old is held in high regard both within his team and in the professional peloton.

David Millar, who retired from a 17-year career on the road at the end of last year, summed up a wider feeling in the peloton with a tweet as Thomas rode away with the break at Harelbeke:

“In all seriousness, few things in pro cycling would make me happier than seeing @GeraintThomas86 win a classic. He was born to be that guy.”

Thomas delivered, dropping, among others, Peter Sagan to solo to the win in the race Millar described as “f***ing hard”. It made him the first Welshman to top the podium in a Classic in 119 years. Two days later, he placed third in Ghent-Wevelgem – bouncing back after being blown off the road, and off his bike, in winds that he said made it “hard enough to stay on the bike, let alone in a straight line”.

All of which makes him a serious contender for Paris-Roubaix this Sunday. It is a race in which, like a spring, Thomas says flexibility is all important.

To hell on a bike

“With the Classics, there’s a lot going on,” he says when we ask about Team Sky’s leader on the day. Sir Bradley Wiggins, in his final race on the road, will be the man Thomas is working for. But a lot can happen in 253km. “You have to be prepared to just race it and talk on the road as well. We have a really strong team this year, and hopefully everyone can get to the big races in top shape, healthy and fit. It’s all to play for then.

“Having numbers is key in the Classics. Especially in races like [the Tour of] Flanders and Roubaix. Myself, Ian Stannard, Brad… and Luke Rowe has really stepped up this year as well. We’re getting stronger all the time.”

Paris-Roubaix, also known as The Hell of the North, is famous for making riders suffer. The route for the Queen of the Classics this year runs between Compiegne, to the northwest of the capital, and the Roubaix velodrome in France. It includes 52.7km of cobbles, spread over 27 sectors. But what is it actually like to compete in?

“It obviously takes its toll,” says Thomas. “It’s rough. A lot of stress, a lot of fighting for position. From about 160km out, for every sector there’s crashes and there’s bottles going everywhere. You’ve got to be on guard, really, and you’ve got to be ready for it, and you’ve always got to be fighting for position at the front.

“Last year I was fighting for the boys, really, before [the Forest of] Arenberg [the most brutal, most spectacular sector of the race]. That’s kind of the first sort of crunch point. And then you get to about 40km to go, and your tyres have already done 220km, and you hit more rough sectors. Everything starts aching, you go a bit numb sometimes. Your arms, your arse is sore. Obviously your legs are screaming as well. There’s just no other race in the world like it.”