John Degenkolb: I have nothing to fear and nothing to lose in Paris-Roubaix

Former winner crashed in recon but hoping to enjoy his Sunday in Hell

Clock12:00, Saturday 6th April 2024
John Degenkolb riding recon ahead of the 2024 edition of Paris-Roubaix

© Getty Images

John Degenkolb riding recon ahead of the 2024 edition of Paris-Roubaix

For a less experienced rider, crashing on the cobbles two days out from Paris-Roubaix might shake them and put some fear in their mind ahead of an already daunting race. But for John Degenkolb, who will line up for his 12th Hell of the North on Sunday, there’s little that’s going to stop him from enjoying his favourite race.

During a Friday recon ride, the 2015 winner slipped out on the Hornaing to Wandignies-Hamage sector – which is in fact the sector that was named after him in 2020 – and is suffering from some pain in his knee, dsm-firmenich PostNL confirmed.

“It was actually even on my sector, so it was a really stupid crash,” Degenkolb told GCN shortly after arriving back from his recon.

“A teammate of mine slipped down and I basically crashed over him. That was it, but shit can happen, and we have to move on from now and we try to do the best to recover as fast as possible.”

The crash is even more frustrating for Degenkolb as he was feeling good heading into Sunday’s race, building well into the key end of the Classics season.

“Obviously I'm really excited, really excited and happy that I've come good through the Classics,” he said of his feeling before the race.

“Maybe not in terms of results, but my condition was quite okay in the last few races, so I'm actually really looking forward to giving it a go on Sunday.”

As Degenkolb approaches his 12th start in Compiègne – he’s the second-most experienced rider on the start list, just behind Alexander Kristoff on 13 Roubaixs – there is some melancholy on his mind, as a 35-year-old whose current contract will run out next year.

“I think my expectation is to just do the best possible race, try to throw everything I have in and see where I come out,” he said of his plans for Sunday.

“And beside that, also enjoy it, because I'm also aware that it's not plenty of times that I will be here in the race.”

Recalling the 2023 race, where he came seventh, Degenkolb was clearly emotional, explaining just how special this tough race is to him.

“I have the privilege to be an active pro cyclist with my own pavé sector and ride on it. Having the possibility last year to ride on there in the first position of the peloton, that was basically the greatest moment in last year's race for me. To see my entire family, my children, my wife, my parents and just see the blink in their eyes when they saw me live, not just on the TV. This is something that stays forever. I'm creating memories like this.”

His memories on the cobbles of northern France are already pretty good, with one Roubaix win and a Tour de France stage victory to his name, which is another reason why the pressure is off going into this year’s Paris-Roubaix.

“I don't have to fear anything, because I have nothing to lose,” he said. “I have one cobblestone at home and that is something that no one can take from me. But obviously I also start with a big portion of respect. This is definitely also necessary, because there are a lot of things that can play a role that you have no influence on, so you have to hope for good luck.

“It is a crazy day and it really will be a crazy day on Sunday again, but I'm prepared for it and I'm looking forward to it.”

A very different race from 2015

As well as the technological differences – Degenkolb laughed when explaining his teammates shock at the aluminium rims and 32 spokes on his 2015 winning bike – Paris-Roubaix has changed a lot in the German’s career, from the way it’s raced to the level in the peloton.

“I think nowadays the average riders are just better than in the past,” he said.

“Everyone is so well prepared and in some races we basically race from start to the end full gas and that's pretty crazy. Some editions here we had 100 kilometres fully attacking then you hit the first sector and there are maybe a few guys ahead. And last year, for example, 100 kilometres to the finish, we were already in a break, and we were going full gas to the end. So it's pretty impressive.

“I remember when Tom Boonen won for the last time, I think he did a solo of 60 kilometres or something, and everyone was like ‘wow, 60 kilometres’ and now when Mathieu [van der Poel] attacks with 60km to go, everyone kind of expects from him that he will do that. So that is also changing a lot in terms of how we approach the races.”

As such an experienced rider, Degenkolb seems a good person to ask how the race could play out on Sunday.

“It's really difficult to predict,” he said. “With Mathieu, we have someone who's just far ahead of everyone else, in terms of strength. It depends a little bit on the wind, but he can go really, really far already by himself. And if everyone is already really tired and on the limit in that moment, then it will be extremely difficult to catch him back."

Despite the changing face of the race, Degenkolb is ready for another round, and confident that he’s adapted to this race and the peloton.

“You have to, because otherwise you’re out, and you can’t compete for the victory.”

For more rider interviews, visit our racing interviews page. To stay up to date with all of the action from the classics, check our essential guide to The Spring Classics.

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