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GHENT, Belgium (VN) — Seven North Americans line up shoulder-to-shoulder Sunday among 31 different nations represented in the peloton for Paris-Roubaix.
Four Canadians and three Americans are spread across six teams. None of them are favorites, but each has their unique story and approach to the “Hell of the North.”
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) returns to Roubaix for the first time since 2014. Phil Gaimon makes his unlikely Roubaix debut as a late-hour replacement to fill out the stricken Cannondale squad. Despite being a veteran of the European peloton, Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) only starts for the second time.
None of them are favorites to achieve what’s never been done: a North American winner of cycling’s hardest one-day race. Canada’s Steve Bauer was second in 1990, and American George Hincapie was second in 2005. Since Hincapie’s ninth in 2008, no North American has punched into Roubaix’s top-10, and Phinney’s 15th in 2012 is the best North American finish since then.
Taylor Phinney, 25 (BMC Racing): A winner of the U23 Roubaix in 2010, Phinney returned to the cobbled classics this spring for the first time since his fateful crash in 2014. Strong performances through Gent-Wevelgem and Ronde van Vlaanderen bode well, but BMC Racing’s tactics were permanently altered with favorite Greg Van Avermaet crashed out of Flanders with a broken clavicle. BMC will start Sunday without a clear leader, but the team promises to race as if it did. That means Phinney will have a green light to attack.
Three Roubaix starts, career-best: 15th in 2012
On return to cobbles: “I was reminded a lot of why I really like this sport. When I was younger, I fell in love with racing in Belgium. They were my kind of races, and I haven’t raced here in two years, and I’ve almost forgotten them. It was nice to be reminded what these races are all about.”
Tyler Farrar, 31 (Dimension Data): The most experienced of today’s generation of American classics riders, Farrar settled into the heart of Flanders in Ghent, Belgium, because he loves racing the northern classics so much. Fifth in 2010 Flanders, when he won the bunch sprint behind the four leaders, and the winner of that year’s Scheldeprijs, Farrar is now a support rider since his move to Dimension Data in 2015.
Seven Roubaix starts, career-best: 28th in 2011
On racing Roubaix: “We’ll be riding for Edvald [Boasson Hagen]. I crashed real hard in Flanders, and I was really paying for it the past few days. I hope the body will continue to recover. I guess we will see what a wet Roubaix looks like. I don’t think anyone in the current peloton has seen a truly wet Roubaix. I will take sun any day.”
Phil Gaimon, 30 (Cannondale): A final-hour replacement rider for Cannondale, which has been ravaged with illnesses that’s depleted its classics roster. Matti Breschel won’t be starting, and the team will rally around Dylan Van Baarle, hot off sixth at Flanders, and Sebastian Langeveld, seventh in the 2013 Roubaix.
On his surprise call-up: “Obviously it’s intimidating and hard, but who gets to say they did a wet Roubaix? I’ve never had race numbers that I wanted to hang on my wall, and that’s going to happen. It’ll be a lifetime experience — a lifetime experience that will feel like I got sadistically beaten. But, a life experience nonetheless.”
Ryan Anderson, 28 (Direct Energie): Anderson made the leap this year from Optum—Kelly Benefit Strategies to Europe. He’s already had 17 days of racing across France and Belgium, including all the major northern classics, and will be riding in support of Sylvain Chavanel.
Antoine Duchesne, 24 (Direct Energie): A product of Bontrager, Duchesne is already in his third season in Europe, and this will be his third Roubaix. He’s had a solid start to 2016, winning the best climber’s jersey at Paris-Nice, and will head to Amstel Gold Race next.
Two Roubaix starts, career-best: 109th in 2015
Svein Tuft, 38 (Orica – GreenEdge): Somewhat surprisingly for the veteran Canadian, this will be only his second Roubaix start. One of the most consistent and powerful engines in the pack, Tuft will be riding to support Jens Keukeleire, sixth in last year’s Roubaix, and veteran Mathew Hayman, back from injury in time to start Roubaix.
One Roubaix start, DNF in 2012
Team tactics: “After his strong performance last year at Roubaix, Jens (Keukeleire) will be our protected rider and the whole team is super motivated to do a good job and push for the result,” says Orica sport director Lorenzo Lapage.
Hugo Houle, 25 (Ag2r-La Mondiale): Another promising young Canadian, Houle is already in his fourth season in Europe. A strong time trialist, he could develop into a strong classics rider in the future. Promising French rider Alexis Gougeard will miss Roubaix due to illness, so the team will rally around Sebastien Turgot, second in the 2012 Roubaix.
Three Roubaix starts, career-best: 142 in 2014