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TOP TIPS: Paris-Roubaix Winner Magnus Backstedt on Riding Cobbles

by Nick Gregory

Ahead of this weekend's 'Queen of the Classics', Paris-Roubaix, Cyclosport's Nick Gregory catches up with the winner of the 2004 Hell of the North, Magnus Backstedt to get his top tips for riding the cobbles and his prediction for this year's race. 

Backstedt, who also won a stage in the 1998 Tour de France, enjoyed a successful career at teams including Fakta, Alessio-Bianchi, Liquigas and Garmin, before turning his attention to racing domestically with UK Youth and MG-Maxifuel. 

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(Image: dvdbramhall, Flickr)

CS: Hi Magnus, so what are your top 5 tips for riding cobbles? 

MB: Number One: Don't look too close to your front wheel, read the line of where you want to go about 50m ahead of you. Make a nice steady movement to your chosen line, because any sudden movements, especially if it's damp, can bring you down. 

Number Two: Find the right cadence for you. There's no such thing as the 'correct' cadence. People say sit on the back of the saddle and grind the biggest gear you possibly can, but that certainly doesn't work for everyone. Just like not everyone can pedal 110rpm going up a mountain. From what I've seen, if you're new to cobbles it's easier to pedal a really high cadence. It might feel weird, and the bike kind of floats under you, but it'll be easier on the legs. 

Number Three: Get as wide tyres as you can possibly fit in your frame! There's no such thing as going too wide. A 27/28mm is far better than a 23/24mm. On most of the cobbled sections at Roubaix, the gaps are so big that you'll slide down between them and tear the sidewall of your tyre. That's the most common puncture. So the wider they are, the less likely that is to happen. 

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(Image: crosby_cj, Flickr)

Number Four: Get some of that pipe insulation that you have around the house, cut up a nice strip of that, strap it to your bars, and then wrap your handlebar tape over the top of that. As far as I'm concerned it's far more absorbent of vibrations and shock than two layers of bar tape. You can also fit it to your own preferred grip position, and make it as wide or thin as you like. Don't hold onto your handlebars like your life depends on it. The harder you hold them, the more painful it will be for your hands and fingers. Just let the bike move under you. 

Number Five: The best place to ride is always on the ridge down the centre of the cobbles. That's where they're smoothest. If it's wet, it can also be the most dangerous place to ride though, because if your front wheel starts sliding down the ridge you better make sure you follow it bloody quickly or your bike will end up going 90 degrees on you. If you're a beginner, avoid the edge and hopping from the gutter to the cobbles like the pros do, because you're very likely to get it wrong and catch your front wheel on the cobbles. If you've ever crashed on the road, crashing on cobbles is far, far more painful... 

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(Image: Walter Bendix Schonflies, Flickr)

CS: Which sections at Paris-Roubaix did you find particularly fierce?

MB: Carrefour de l'Arbre is, as far as I'm concerned, the toughest section out there. The Forest (Arenberg) is more difficult in some ways, but mainly because the run in to it is so incredibly fast, and with that, you have to be in the top five or six coming onto it, because if you're further back it's more than likely that you're going to get caught in a crash. It's just pure carnage, but I love them both! 

CS: It's ten years this year since your victory at Paris-Roubaix in 2004. Just what is it about the race that's always captured your imagination, and obviously having won it, makes you so proud to have done so? 

MB: It's the history behind it. There's no other race on the calendar that remotely resembles Paris-Roubaix. It's one day each year, and you have no second chance to go out again the next day and have another go. That's what makes it so special. If you go back through the history books and look at the guys who have won it - they're all pretty hardcore bike riders! That's what makes it for me. 

CS: Who's the strongest rider you've ever ridden with or against on the cobbles? 

MB: Franco Ballerini. No doubt about it. The first memory I have of riding Roubaix in 1998 was watching him go. It was so impressive. I haven't seen anything quite like it since. When he went, the way he rode away from us all that day, it was almost beautiful to watch. 

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(Image: crosby_cj, Flickr)

CS: In terms of your own teams and teammates, which did you enjoy riding with the most? 

MB: When I rode for Team Fakta - a small Danish team - that was the most enjoyable because we were underdogs who fought hard and got some amazing results. It was a great crew of people too.

In terms of incredible teammates though, I would say 2004 when I won Roubaix. Standing on the start line knowing I had lieutenants like Baldato next to me that were going to look after me 100% was pretty damn special. The way he in particular towed me onto the Carrefour and dropped me off on the right wheels, it was incredible. You can't put a value on a rider like that. And then to see the joy on his face when he realised I won, they're memories that are very special to me. To have guys like that willing to work for you, it gives you that little bit more self-belief. 

CS: What's the best bike you've ever ridden on the cobbles? 

MB: We created a special bike for the 2004 Roubaix with Bianchi, and it worked so well that I ended up riding it for another year and a half! It was a stunning bike to ride. 

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(Image: Paul Gravestock, Flickr)

CS: With regards this weekend, how do you see Sunday panning out? Who's your pick for the win? 

MB: I don't think there is a pick for Sunday! I think it'll be one of the most random bike races we've seen for a long time, but utterly brilliant. I think because of what Cancellara did last weekend, and the fact that Quick-Step got it wrong, they'll be hesitant to make any more mistakes, so the tactical drama will be pretty special.

There's never quite a surprise winner at Roubaix, because you need the legs to be there, but from what I saw last Sunday there's one man who looks ready but has slipped under the radar slightly, and that's Taylor Phinney. If he gets the moment right, he'll be gone. 

CS: With the Tour de France returning to the cobbles this summer, is it something you like to see? And how do you think it might affect the overall there - will any of the big contenders come unstuck? 

MB: We've seen the Tour there before, and no doubt we'll see the Tour go there again. I firmly believe that if you want to win a Grand Tour you should be able to ride any surface, at any time. I have no problems with it. I know it's not liked by many, especially the climbers, but if you're a pro bike rider you should be able to ride just about anything. Whatever happens it'll be another bonkers day! 

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(Image: Chris Tank, Flickr)

CS: So what's the plan for the next few years? Carry on competing in triathlon? Team management? More media work? 

MB: I know what I'm doing until October, and that's about it at the moment. I'm really enjoying the triathlon, and I'd like to keep doing it, but that obviously comes down to sponsorship and funding post-Kona. I'll definitely carry on doing the media stuff and some commentary too. I think if I was to go into team management it would need to be the right team and the right role, where I feel I could actually add something and have a voice.

For more news on what Magnus is up to, visit his website: www.magnusbackstedt.com





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