• Koen de Kort hopes to be worthy of a shower in the historic Paris-Roubaix change rooms (Sirotti Images)
Paris-Roubaix can reduce even the most hardened professionals to tears.
By
Sophie Smith

13 Apr 2015 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 5:55 PM

“I think it’s got to do with how tired you are after,” says Giant-Alpecin stayer Koen de Kort.

“It’s a lot of kilometres but so much more painful than anything else. You can do three weeks of the Tour de France and be tired at the end but, for me, it’s nothing compared to just doing that one race all out. It’s hard to even walk the next day, everything is sore and it’s quite a long process to get up the stairs.

“A lot of guys just see it as an achievement to get to the finish and that’s not really much of an achievement in other races,” he continues. “Maybe in the Tour de France, where everyone wants to get to Paris, but that’s the only other race. That makes it a bit emotional as well I guess.”

De Kort has a long-time affinity with the ‘Queen of the classics’ he won solo as an under-23 in 2004, the cobble trophy for which still takes pride of place in the Dutchman’s home.

“It was pretty good because it was the first time someone from the Rabobank U23 team won,” he recalls. “We always dominated pretty much every race [but] we never managed to win Paris-Roubaix as a team. It’s pretty special being on the same podium, inside the velodrome lifting one of those rocks.”

 

The 32-year-old has an aptitude for racing on cobbles that he says helps justify the pain of the 253.5km battle that notably includes 27 cobble sectors totaling 52.7km.  

“Roubaix gets decided on the cobblestones,” he says. “Some of these sections are just incredible, you can’t even imagine that you could ride your bike over it and we race over it as fast we can. You basically start with a big group of riders and every time a couple of guys get dropped until you’ve got no one left, until the strongest survive. You can have one or two, sometimes even three, punctures, bad moments and still win the race. If you’re strong basically anything is possible."

“Flanders and Roubaix are definitely my favourite races of the year,” de Kort continues. “They’re so hard, they’re so man-to-man fights, especially Flanders now the people in Belgium go crazy, you’ve seen it before, it’s incredible. It’s bigger than a Tour de France stage and this makes it so special.

“You get a little bit the same feeling in Roubaix but Roubaix is completely different to any other race. It’s basically not normal cycling any more, it’s a different version of cycling with different bikes and different materials and the race is run completely different. I guess maybe it’s the difference that is really nice, you do about 85 race days a year and one is completely different to the rest. It’s good to do something else but then it’s also really beautiful.”

De Kort will have a fight on his hands Sunday when he again tries to deliver in-form team-mate John Degenkolb to victory. Degenkolb won a bunch sprint for second last year, behind winner Niki Terpstra (Etixx-QuickStep), and having already triumphed in a Monument this season, Milan-San Remo, has every chance to go one better on the weekend.

“John is definitely going to be the main goal again. He was so good last year and really close to winning it. He’s going to be really motivated to try and do that again,” de Kort says.

De Kort avoided the heritage showers last season feeling, despite the prominence of his team-mate, unhappy with his own performance in what was a nod to the tradition of the race, which is still overtly revered even in an increasingly scientific and technological era.

“I guess it is part of the achievement. I have the feeling you kind of have to earn going to these showers. If you’ve had a good race you’re allowed to go there. A lot of big champions have been there,” de Kort says.

“We’ve got all the luxuries of the bus so we definitely don’t have to go there but it’s something you want to go through the extra effort to do, if you feel happy about how you’ve been. If I don’t feel happy then I don’t feel like grabbing my trolley and then going to the showers and having all of these photographers there. If you’ve had a good race you’re happy to do that and it’s something that’s really cool but if you’re not happy with the race it’s all too much of a hassle.”

If de Kort and team-mates can succeed in helping deliver Degenkolb to victory, the 26-year-old will become only the second German, and first since Josef Fischer in 1896, to triumph in the Hell of the North.

“This year if everything goes alright I’m afraid the first thing that is going to happen is a selfie, because you always look a bit different after a race like that,” de Kort muses.

“Then I’d really like to go to the old showers there and have that little bit of tradition as well. It’s a race all about tradition and times gone past, that’s part of it, and you have to end it like that.”

SBS will broadcast Paris-Roubaix live on Sunday 12 April: from 2130 AEST on SBS ONE for Eastern states, South Australia and Northern Territory, and from 1930 AWST on SBS2 for Western Australia. The race will also be streamed live here on Cycling Central.