The conversations among journalists and fans at Saturday’s Paris-Roubaix team presentation mostly focused on the Classics brilliance of Alexander Kristoff, the uncertainty about the chances of Bradley Wiggins in the race, and the odds of another Etixx misstep, but beyond these select few conversation-starting top favorites, there are twenty-five teams and two hundred riders in total taking on Paris-Roubaix. From the cockpit of his Argon 18, Scott Thwaites will “enjoy” the same bone-rattling cobblestones as everyone else in the Queen of the Classics, but he will view this race from the perspective of a wild card invite and first-time Roubaix rider. VH caught up with Scott ahead of the race to get a sense of what this Monument Classic looks like from his vantage point.
VH: You’ve just ridden the always challenging Tour of Flanders, and now it’s onto another grueling day on the cobbles. How are you feeling right about now?
ST: It’s obviously another big day out, it’s pretty tough, and in Roubaix the cobbles are worse. It’s going to be a hard day so we’ll need to all work together and try to do the best we can.
VH: Bora-Argon 18 (or it’s previous incarnations as NetApp) has received wild card invites to Roubaix for several years now. When that is your avenue for getting into a race, is there any pressure to honor the invite and let people know that you deserve the spot.
ST: Yeah I guess you’ve got to sort of do that and thank the organizers for inviting you as well. The sponsors, they put the money in and they want to be shown on the biggest stage. These races are what it’s all about really, the Tour, Roubaix, Flanders, the other Monuments, so you’ve really got to do the best you can as a team and get yourself out there. It’s not all about getting the Top 10. It’s also just getting the coverage. Being in the main breakaway is a big goal for a lot of the small teams, the teams that maybe don’t have someone that can get there at the finish. At Flanders we had a guy in the small front break for most of the race, which was great for the team.
VH: That being said, what’s the team planning to do in pursuit of those goals?
ST: Well like I said, It’s about getting someone in the break, that’s the main thing because then we get a bit more publicity for the sponsors and for future invites. If we animate the race, if you use that word, then that helps for future years, so that’s probably the main goal for the team, and then I guess just trying to get the best rider as far as possible in the lead group and just see how they do from there. If he can get a decent result than that’s a bonus.
VH: Is there a particular result the team would consider a success here?
ST: I don’t really know for this race. . . . Can’t really put a number on a position or anything.
VH: What about you personally, as a first-time Roubaix rider—what are you hoping to come away with on Sunday?
ST: I’d like to see the finish, that’s obviously a good start, it’s always good for your development, if you can get to the finish in the biggest races, you get the miles in your legs, you get experience learning the course a bit better and all of that helps in future years. For me, to see the finish is the goal, but I can’t let that take over for the job I have to do on the day, because if it comes to it and I have to ride on the front and do a role in the middle of the race for whoever the best guy on the team is, then that will come first and then finishing will come after that.
VH: Jan Barta, one of your main riders for these races, is out with an illness. A number of teams are experiencing something similar, losing leaders and scrambling to come up with options. What’s that do for a squad psychologically?
ST: I guess it gives more teams a bit more confidence that their top guy can win the race, so maybe they sort of take on the race in a different approach. . . . More people feel like the race is open so it’s there for the taking, and I guess you might see different teams trying to control the races whereas before it might have been Etixx and Trek that had the two main guys in the race. I think we saw that in Flanders where Sky tried to control the race because Geraint [Thomas] was a strong favorite. I’m guessing that will happen also in Roubaix, probably with Sky again with Wiggins, they’ll look to try to take the race and control it.
ST: Are the Cobbled Classics a goal for you personally in your career?
VH: Definitely, the Classics is what I want to do in the future and what I want to be good it, but I think especially in the Classics, it takes a few years to get to that level. You obviously get the odd person that comes every few years that just sort of is able to do well from a young age, but generally it takes guys into the late twenties to learn the roads, build up the strength, and get everything as a package that you need to be a top Classics rider. Because I’m British, I follow the British guys like Stannard and Thomas, and you’ve seen them in the past few years really start to come to the front in these races. They’ve been working on that for the last three or four years at least, if not longer, to try to get into that position. Obviously for me, this is my second Classics season really, second Flanders, second Gent-Wevelgem and it will be my first Roubaix, so I’ve still got plenty of years to sort of learn the routes and the racing style and everything. But if every year I can progress deeper into the races, hold the front group for longer and longer, then there will come a point where I’ll be in the race when it rally matters and that’s the goal.
VH: And is team leadership in these races a part of that goal?
ST: Yeah definitely. I’m not far off at the moment. Probably I could do with a Grand Tour to build up some strength, I think that’s next in my development if I could get a Grand Tour in my legs that would also help for the future. Each year I’m learning the roads more and I’m learning where the decisive parts in the race are, not only the winning splits but all the splits before that where you can get caught out, so I’m learning the right position to be in on certain climbs and things like that. So that’s all looking good for the future and that’s all knowledge that I’ve got now that I can put into action next year and in the future.
VH: Are you picking up any knowledge from veterans of these races?
ST: I work with Jeremy Hunt, he’s my trainer and he was obviously very experienced in the Classics, and he was a guy that was up there in the key parts of the races and he was able to get into the front groups. And I think it’s somebody like that that you really need to learn off, because you could have done the race five times but if you’ve never made the front split, then you can’t really tell anyone how to make the front split. So it’s learning off of someone who’s been there, been in the thick of the action, and I think Jeremy has been a really big help for me in all of the races, not only in the big ones like Flanders but in the smaller ones like Nokere [Koerse], things like positioning for the sprint, he’s given me a lot of advice for that and it’s certainly helped.