Alberto Bettiol’s plan for Paris-Roubaix: ‘Jump into hell and come back alive’

Former Tour of Flanders winner more than happy to go into first Paris-Roubaix a little blind, with nothing but confidence in his team and their experience

Clock20:55, Saturday 6th April 2024
Alberto Bettiol (left) was unlucky to come away from the Tour of Flanders empty-handed, with his battling performance deserving of so much more

© Getty Images

Alberto Bettiol (left) was unlucky to come away from the Tour of Flanders empty-handed, with his battling performance deserving of so much more

There was once a thought that Paris-Roubaix could only be won by an experienced rider, someone who had paid their dues and gone to ‘hell’ and back as part of their tutelage. Three years ago, Sonny Colbrelli shattered that notion when he led Florian Vermeersch and Mathieu van der Poel over the line to win the race - three riders who were all making their debut in the ‘Hell of the North.’

A veteran of the cobbles, Alberto Bettiol is not, but the EF Education-EasyPost leader is hoping to follow in his compatriot’s footsteps and walk away victorious from his debut at the Queen of the Classics. In fact, the Italian is unfazed by his inexperience on the cobbles of northern France.

“I know that there is a velodrome in Roubaix, I know you have to go through a forest but then I don’t really know a lot about this race. But I am happy like this, I don’t want to know more, because I trust this team,” he tells GCN from his team’s pre-race hotel on Friday evening.

The Italian has just enjoyed a rest day and cuts a relaxed figure as he continues to recover from a small illness that threatened his participation on Sunday. Bettiol admits there were doubts for a moment on whether his long-awaited debut would take place, but says he is feeling a lot better two days out from the race.

“I am healthy and I don’t need to do a lot in this week, I just needed to recover and be healthy. The shape is here so I don’t need to stress myself a lot, let’s see on Sunday, it is a bike race.”

Read more: Introducing Paris-Roubaix’s five most iconic cobblestone sectors

Bettiol’s nonchalance is not a knock to the race itself - “of course, it is the Queen of the Classics so for sure I always said that one day I would have to ride Paris-Roubaix” - rather, it is a sign of how calm he feels ahead of the weekend. The 30-year-old has enjoyed a comeback Spring Classic campaign that yielded a win at Milano-Torino and fifth place at Milan-San Remo.

Were it not for the final hundred metres last week in the Tour of Flanders, he may well have taken his first Monument podium since he won De Ronde in 2019. Bettiol and Dylan Teuns (Israel-Premier Tech) looked set to contest second and third behind lone winner Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck), but the chasing group caught the pair just before the line. Nonetheless, it was a confidence-boosting day in the saddle for the Italian.

“Finally I was able to show the team that I was able to be at the high level of cycling after a few years, that’s the most important thing,” he says. “Ok, I lost the podium by a few metres on Sunday but thinking how I was three or four years ago, trying to fight against my problems, now I am finally here I can only be happy.”

With a spring of fine form behind him and one of the most experienced sports directors in the pack commandeering EF Education-EasyPost from the team car on Sunday, Bettiol has good reason to be quietly confident of performing well in his first Paris-Roubaix.

The reliable Andreas Klier calling the shots for EF Education-EasyPost

In Owain Doull and Jonas Rutsch, Bettiol can call on the experience of nine editions of Paris-Roubaix between them, but in the team car behind will sit EF Education-EasyPost’s not-so-secret weapon, sports director Andreas Klier.

The German rode 13 editions of Paris-Roubaix in his long career and achieved his best result of 12th in 2009. His guidance was key to Bettiol’s Tour of Flanders success in 2019, which was remarkably the Italian’s first-ever professional victory.

“He knows me probably better than I know myself,” smiles Bettiol. “I need to trust him, trust that he knows this race really and trust what my teammates tell him. I have an experienced team, I have probably the best sports director that anybody can have for Paris-Roubaix, so in the end, it is up to my legs to tell me what to do.”

Ahead of Sunday’s race, Bettiol has never even ridden the fearsome sector of Trouée d’Arenberg, but owing to the Italian’s positive mental attitude, this is something that brings excitement rather than dread for the 30-year-old.

“Maybe I am even more excited to do it for the first time in the race,” he says.

“I am not worried about it, tomorrow night we will have our final debrief. I will know everything I need to know. I have good legs, I have a good team, that’s it, you don’t need to know everything.”

Read more: Paris-Roubaix: Moments that have defined cycling's most-loved Monument

Bettiol’s spirit is refreshing, full of passion for the most-beloved one-day race on the calendar - his childhood was spent watching Franco Ballerini and Andrea Tafi claim victory for Italy - but with a wide-eyed naivety that could play to his advantage on Sunday. A racer since he was only five years of age, a Paris-Roubaix debut will have been a long time coming when he first hits the cobblestones on Sunday, but his game plan is simple - simple but magnificent.

“Just jump into hell and then you’ll come back alive."

For the latest news, interviews and analysis from the world of professional cycling, be sure to check out the Racing tab on the GCN website and visit our essential guide to The Spring Classics to stay up to date with all of the action from cycling's most exciting season.

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