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“After my performance the last 2 years I have to believe that one year I can battle there for a good result. Of course with John, you always put all your cards on him. But in the final, you always have a chance!”

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Photo: Team Giant-Shimano

BERT DE BACKER

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PARIS - ROUBAIX

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TEAM SUNWEB

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21.12.2015 @ 08:00 Posted by Joseph Doherty

It is rare for a domestique who has only won one pro race in his career to be so close to winning a Monument. But for Giant-Alpecin’s Bert De Backer, that has almost been a reality at the 2014 and 2015 editions of Paris-Roubaix, where he made the final selection both times before sacrificing himself for teammate John Degenkolb, who was second and then first in the races.

 

CyclingQuotes caught up with the strong Belgian to discuss Roubaix, the future of his team and his elite group of fellow pro riders who ride with each other in Ghent. 

 

De Backer admits that his early season form was still suffering thanks to a crash sustained in June of 2014, but he gradually built his shape back and by Roubaix, he was flying again, out on a mission to prove is 2014 showing of 11th wasn’t a fluke. He proved this, taking 12th, while Degenkolb won the fabled Cobblestone trophy.

 

“Although I had a lot of problems with my health after a hard crash in June 2014, I’m very satisfied that I could do my job in the Flemish classics for the team. Mentally it was also a big relief that I could show in Roubaix that last year wasn’t a lucky shot. I put a lot of pressure on myself for that, because even I didn’t know if I was just lucky that day in 2014. But now I know I’m made for those cobbles, because even with a bad feeling I made it in to the final. After the national championships in June, I got the metal in my collarbone (which was placed there after the 2014 crash) removed, and since then I have a body again that can handle a lot training, so one year after my crash I am riding with a positive feeling again.”

 

De Backer is always a willing helper, especially on the cobbles, but his powerful frame, like Degenkolb’s, seems to suit the harsher stones of Roubaix better than the steep inclines of Tour of Flanders.

 

“I think I have the right shape to ride on cobbles. This year, I was suffering a lot on the asphalt roads in-between the cobbles. So bad that I thought after 150km, that I would never make it into the finale. When the race evolved and riders were getting dropped on the cobbles, I could easily move up on the cobbles. In 2014 we got second with John, and talked a lot about it afterwards. That’s one of the reasons why we made the good decisions in the finale this year. And when you have a leader with the shape like John this year, then you have a good chance to take the victory home.”

 

Niki Terpstra managed to win the 2014 edition of Roubaix that De Backer first showed promise in. he escaped solo at 6km to go and De Backer and Geraint Thomas just couldn’t bridge. Terpstra was aided by the fact that he had two strong teammates in the lead group in Stybar and Boonen. When asked if Degenkolb’s presence in the front could one day allow De Backer to win, he said:

 

“After my performance the last 2 years I have to believe that one year I can battle there for a good result. Of course with a leader like John, you always put all your cards on him. But when you’re there in the final, you always have a chance!”

 

turning to 2016, much has been made of Marcel Kittel’s departure from Giant-Alpecin and the reported change in attitude from sprinting to climbing. The 2013 Grote Prijs Jef Scherens winner said that the team’s calendar will remain the same as always, meaning their style of racing will be very similar too, regardless of the big German’s departure.

 

“For now the races we will compete at are the same, so my role as a captain can stay the same. We still have talented sprinters in the team, so they still deserve full support.”

 

De Backer isn’t sure where he will start his season, but says he will be racing early and will finish the season in October, meaning it will be another long year for him. One thing he can confirm is that he will be at his best for the Classics, especially Roubaix.

 

“The team has my plan ready for the whole season, and although it will be an early start and a late ending, it’s very balanced with several short rest periods. When a team has a big program, a lot can change, so small changes are always possible. As a helper it’s better to be between 95 and 100% in every race. But if there’s one race where I’ll try to be 110%, then that’s Paris-Roubaix.”

 

Turning to his training, there is a group on Twitter known as SVGG (Sport Vrienden Gruut Gent). They are made up of eight pro cyclists and they train together, pushing each other so they can achieve great results.

 

“In Ghent we have a training group of 8 professional cyclists (Tiesj Benoot, Dimitri Claeys, Iljo Keisse, Niko Maes, Edward Theuns, Gijs Van Hoecke, Otto Vergaerde and me) and it’s named SVGG (Sport Vrienden Gruut Gent). If you want to translate it, Sports Friends from Gent and suburbs, says where it stands for. I think the group is a boost for all of us. We push each other in a good way. We train that little bit more, change some things nutrition wise, help each other in the gym or push each other to the limit when we do sprints. And above all of that, we just when we have fun together. I’m more then 30 years old (31) and my job is going out on the bike with friends...It can sound romantic, an actually also is,” he jokes.

 

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