Jens Keukeleire about his expectations in Gent-Wevelgem
Keukeleire looks ahead to his favourite race.
On Sunday 14 April, exactly one week after the Tour of Flanders, the riders will take on the mighty cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Between the start in Compiègne and the finish on the legendary velodrome in Roubaix, an extremely demanding race of 257 kilometres through the Hell of the North awaits. Troivilles à Inchy – the first of 29 cobbled sections – looms after about 100 kilometres, after which the secteurs pavés follow in quick succession. The five-star sections Trouée d’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre are most likely to play a crucial role during the 117th edition of Paris-Roubaix.
Lotto Soudal rider Jens Keukeleire will start his tenth Hell of the North and wants to conclude a strong Classics season with a top result. Tiesj Benoot will be at the start of Paris-Roubaix for the third time in his career and hopes to animate the finale.
Jens Keukeleire: “I have never been in a better shape at the start of Paris-Roubaix. In 2015, I was already close the victory when I finished sixth. Back then, I became ill just before Paris-Nice and I only felt at my best again in Paris-Roubaix. Now, I’ve had a nice spring season, which brings some peace of mind. Of course, my performance in the past Tour of Flanders gives me confidence. I have been performing consistently the past spring Classics, but I still wait for that one peak result. In previous years, I missed that little percentage to stay with the best, but the past races have shown that I don’t need to fear other riders during a finale. Now, I am able to make the selection myself during key moments in the race. I feel that winning is a possibility on Sunday.”
“There is no race in which experience is more important than in Paris-Roubaix. It will be my tenth participation and I still learn every year. Contrary to the Tour of Flanders, the course of Paris-Roubaix – except for Tour stages – is only ridden once a year. The recon and the race itself are one of the few moments you are able to feel the cobbles. The more experienced you are, the more you can read how the race will unfold.”
“Because of the headwind that is being predicted, I expect the race to be closed a little longer than usual. But once racing kicks off, it is of course all hands on deck. On the tough sections like Bersée, Mons-en-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre, there will be a tailwind and that is exactly when differences can be made. It is one of the first years that I don’t need to attack from afar. Moreover, joining an early break is always a gamble, certainly because of the predicted headwind during the run-up to the cobbled sectors. That way, you can waste a lot of energy, which you’ll need during the finale.”
Tiesj Benoot: “I will start in the Hell of the North for the third time in my career. During my first participation in 2015, I punctured twice. The next year, I crashed hard during the Tour of Flanders, and in Paris-Roubaix, I had two flats on a very bad moment. That means that I have never been up there during the finale but I hope to do so this year. In the first place, I need to prove to myself that I can make it to the finale and if that succeeds, a nice result is possible. My shape certainly won’t be the problem, I still feel fresh. For me, only two chances remain during the spring Classics. If I can avoid bad luck and if everything falls into place, a podium spot will be amongst the possibilities. The Tour of Flanders maybe suits me – thanks to the many climbs – a little better, but Paris-Roubaix is of course less about explosive racing. A really hard race will certainly play to my advantage. I have to try to attack from a little further and hope for some hesitation behind or that some strong riders will join me.”
“It will be important to always stay at the front. Once we’ve ridden through the Forest of Arenberg, a new race begins, so to speak. The wind always plays an important role in Paris-Roubaix. During the recon, I noticed that on the sector prior to Mons-en-Pévèle and on the five-star section itself, the wind will be favourable to really start racing. We’ll have to deal with headwind during a lot of the cobbles, but not out there.”
“Many riders start Paris-Roubaix with the goal of setting an outstanding performance. During the past races, the pool of contenders was smaller, which makes it difficult to name some favourites for Sunday. Of course, I expect riders like Oliver Naesen and Wout Van Aert to be up there, but during an event like Paris-Roubaix, it is not a good idea to base your race on other riders.”
Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Stan Dewulf, Frederik Frison, Jens Keukeleire, Nikolas Maes, Lawrence Naesen and Brian van Goethem.
Sports directors: Frederik Willems and Herman Frison.