Mat Hayman, Sam Bewley and DS Matt Wilson Preview Paris-Roubaix

Thu 10 Apr 2014

Paris-Roubaix was first given the nickname ‘The Hell of the North’ by journalists in 1919 because of the devastation World War I inflicted on the countryside in northern France and southern Belgium. Ask the riders today what ‘The Hell of the North’ means to them and they will describe a scene that is less about the surroundings and the history and more about the brutal course.

To the riders, it might feel like the closest thing to hell on a bike as they attempt to ride their machines over the most treacherous, brutal sections of cobblestoned roads between Paris (or Compiègne to be exact) and Roubaix. Yet, as the riders cross the finish line in Roubaix, they may feel as if they’ve just stepped into heaven.

Positioned on the calendar as the third of the five Monuments, Paris-Roubaix stands out as the toughest, most epic, most unpredictable one day race of all. Don’t let its pan flat profile trick you into thinking this race, the Queen of the Classics, is another calculated affair in which a sprinter emerges victorious after his team has strategically delivered him to the line. Oh no. The story of the day will be anything but predictable even if a pre-race favourite emerges as victorious.

Beginning at kilometre 97.5, the peloton will contend with 28 sectors of pavé. Those 28 sectors range from a measly 300 metres in length to a cruel 3.7 kilometres. In total, the race will pass over 51 kilometres of uneven, rugged, askew, erratic ground. There is only one sector with the simple rating of one. There are three sadistic five star sectors - the Arenberg Forest at kilometre 161.5, Mons-en-Pévèle at kilometre 208 and Le Carrefour de l'Arbre at kilometre 240. What unfolds over these sectors will require courage, grit and luck.

Prior to the start of Paris-Roubaix, riders Mathew Hayman and Sam Bewley and Sport Director Matt Wilson answer questions about the battle that awaits them.

Mat Hayman – 12 previous starts at Paris-Roubaix, 10th place 2011, 8th place 2012

Q: You have a long history at Paris-Roubaix. What stands out as your best and worst moments in your previous starts?

Hayman: My best memories are my top ten finishes in 2011 and 2012. Riding for other teammates who have done well also ranks high.

On the flip side, I’ve been involved in bad crashes, of course. Aside from crashing, the worst memory would have to be the year I gave [Juan Antonio] Flecha a wheel, which essentially took me out of the race. I was 20 minutes behind the last group, but I didn’t want to give up. I soldiered on to the velodrome. Near the finish I hit a woman crossing a cobbled section. I got up and finished. I have always made a point of getting to the finish line at Paris-Roubaix, but having to ride 100 kilometres alone was certainly a lowlight.

Q: In many races, riders out of contention or domestiques who have done their job for the day abandon a race. What is so special about Paris-Roubaix that makes riders go through hell to make it to the velodrome?

Hayman: Ever since my first ride at Paris-Roubaix there has always been excitement surrounding this race. Everyone is excited. The race is so different, so special. I remember them all.

You do your work first. Then you do what you can to get to the finish line. It’s a monument in itself just to finish.

Q: What has changed for you since your first Paris-Roubaix?

 Hayman: Before my first Roubaix, I was scared of the race – the length and how hard it was going to be. I’ve ridden it a number of times so now I’m more familiar with it.

Things changed for me when I started getting some general results in the top ten, top 20. People recognized I’m actually a racer and can do quite well. If lady luck shines, I might even have a chance. It was a big change in going from doing your job for someone else to being the one who finishes the job off for the team.

Q: What does Paris-Roubaix mean to you?

 Hayman: Paris-Roubaix is my favourite race. It’s the one I like doing most. The one I look forward to every year. Once it’s finished I almost get depressed knowing I have to wait 365 days for the next one. But it wouldn’t be Paris-Roubaix if it were held every month.

Sam Bewley – first time starting Paris-Roubaix

Q: You tweeted the other day that you were watching old Paris-Roubaix clips. Is that one of your strategies for getting mentally prepared?

Bewley: Obviously, this is my first Roubaix, the professional version anyway. I rode the U23 version a few years back, but I don't have much memory of it or the sectors. There are guys out there who know the name of every sector, where they are in the race and the effect they have on the race. I am not one of those people because I have no experience in this race.

In preparation for Roubaix, I thought I would watch some videos on YouTube of the last few editions. I want to get an idea of how the race plays out, what sectors have an impact on the race and where those sectors are placed.

I will certainly be picking the brain of guys like Mat Hayman. I’ll listen to all he has to say about the race beforehand and during. 

Q: What are your personal expectations?

Bewley: My expectations are a little loose. I guess the only thing I can accurately expect is that it’s going to be hard, very hard. Positioning is crucial. You have to be prepared to fight the war for those positions.

I am going into this race with an open mind but with a very clear objective of helping out our leaders. My role will be sticking close to them in the race, getting their bottles and helping out if they have any mechanical issues (let’s hope not too many). If I can do my job well and contribute to helping our leaders meet their personal expectations, then that will be a success for me. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to on race day? What are you most nervous about?

Bewley: I haven't ridden this race before but I have been around the block long enough and done big enough races that I can contain my nerves pretty well. I am normally quite relaxed leading into a race and I don't plan on making this race any different. I guess if there is anything to be nervous about it’s the potential crashes. But I can't say I think too much about them – that’s a waste of energy.

I am looking forward to the weekend as a whole. There’s the course recon on Friday, getting some hot tips from the guys, the teams’ presentation in front of thousands of the most passionate fans in the sport and, of course, everything that the race brings, which will hopefully include riding into the famous Roubaix velodrome even if I am 20 minutes behind.

Sport Director Matt Wilson

Q: For someone who is tuning into their first Paris-Roubaix, what can they expect?

Wilson: There is no other race on the calendar like Roubaix. It’s almost like a mountain bike race at times, especially if there is bad weather. Fans will see something very different, very unique. It is action packed. There are a lot of crashes, all sorts of problems. Even the winner doesn’t get through without some issues.

Q: Can you describe the star ratings for the various cobbled sectors? Are the five star sectors where the race usually unfolds?

Wilson: The stars are used to rate the difficulty of the sectors with one being the easiest and five being the most difficult. The ratings are based on length, the unevenness of the cobbles, the overall condition of the sectors and their location.

The Arenberg Forest is unbelievable. I can’t even describe it. The strongest guys will get across in the front. If they decide to go hard in the Arenberg, that’s the race right there.

Q: The road is too treacherous for team cars to drive through the Arenberg Forest. What happens to the riders if there is a puncture or mechanical in this section?

Wilson: There are neutral spares to help with problems. We will have our soigneurs placed at the end of the sector with spare wheels. If there is a puncture, the rider has to get to the end of the sector to get a new wheel.

This is where the support guys have to be near the leaders to give a wheel or swap bikes if there is a wheel or bike malfunction.

Q: Based on how Flanders played out, do you have any expectations for Paris-Roubaix?

Wilson: We can expect Quick-Step to be firing bullets early. Of course, Trek has [Fabian] Cancellara and [Stijn] Devolder who are on really good form. Quick-Step and Trek are the two dominating teams right now, but we have to go out and do our own race. If we wait for them, it will be too late.

Q: What will have to go right for ORICA-GreenEDGE to have a successful day?

Wilson: Like we were in Flanders, I expect us to be part of the race. We need to ride well as a team. Mat Hayman is capable of a top ten and maybe even better. To have Hayman in the top ten would be good. To have him in the top five would be amazing.

ORICA-GreenEDGE for Paris-Roubaix:

Aidis Kruopis
Jens Keukeleire
Jens Mouris
Luke Durbridge
Mathew Hayman
Michael Hepburn
Mitch Docker
Sam Bewley