Just days out from Paris-Roubaix Verve Cycling spoke with Magnus Bäckstedt, winner of the 2004 edition, to get the inside scoop on what it takes to win one of professional cycling’s greatest one-day races.
Arguably one of the most physically demanding classics on the calendar, Paris-Roubaix demands the utmost respect. Simply finishing the gruelling 254km race is an achievement in itself but to be with the favourites when the real race begins, often after the Forest of Arenberg, places someone like Magnus in a very elite bunch. Getting through that point in the race however, is a battle in itself.
“The forest is the first really big and dangerous section. You are unlikely to win the race here but you can definitely loose it. So the run-in is extremely important,” Magnus told Verve Cycling.
“We would be flying along up to 65km/h going onto those first stones. It’s absolutely flat out for a couple of kilometres almost like a lead out for a big bunch sprint. I would be sitting on somewhere between 600-650 watts for that period of time. And that’s before you’ve even hit the cobbles!”
It took the former Sweedish road champion just four attempts before finally capturing his cobbled trophy and says that it’s still to this day one the greatest moment in his professional career.
Magnus on his way towards Roubaix and “the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced”.
“It’s the cobbles that takes it out of you. You have to keep a certain speed so you can ride over them ‘easy’ – if you can call it that. However, that also means pushing some crazy watts!”
“Nearly every section requires a couple of minutes at VO2 power and when you’re talking about repeating across 27 sections it saps all your energy. Then there’s all the attacks to follow on top of that. The power efforts required to be in the mix is right up there with the hardest races I ever did. Oh, and let’s not forget about the vibrations. They kill you as well.”
In an interview with Cycling Weekly Magnus went into further detail around his preparation for Hell of the North.
“I need the same power output as I can do in a pursuit race on the track. I have ridden 4:30 for 4,000 metres, and that needs upwards of 550 watts from me. The figures are the same for each cobbled section if you want to stay at the front.”
With such extreme and repeated efforts required to merely stay at the front Magnus told Verve Cycling that after building a huge base of kilometres over the winter and spring it’s more about building on those VO2 efforts in order to take the win. Of course, having an accurate and reliable power meter like the InfoCrank is crucial for such specific training efforts.
“We focused a lot on the VO2 efforts in order to cope with them in the best possible way. After that it would be about heading to the course for recon dry runs to test equipment and also to find the feel for the cobbles.”
And how do you win Roubaix exactly?
Winners are grinners.
“You don’t actually have that much left in the finale. It becomes more of a question of who has anything left, how badly you want it, how deep into the hurt locker can you go and positioning on the velodrome. I managed to stay cool enough in 2004 but it was a risky strategy for the final turn, but then again sometimes those come off and had I done anything different I don’t think I would have had the legs to win it.”
Behind the scenes of Magnus’ 2004 winning year.
Crashes are inevitable in Paris-Roubaix so a little extra padding never hurts.
Magnus talks to BikeRadar about his passion for Roubaix below.
Watch the highlights from Magnus’ win below.