Archiv für den Tag: 3. April 2019

The first time in hell: Sven Erik Bystrøm (III/IV)

„This race has a special place in my heart.“

Foto: Gerhard Plomitzer –

There is a turning point in every cyclist’s career. About forty riders tackle Paris-Roubaix for the first time every year. Bitter or sweet, their first taste of cobblestones will stay with them forever. From now until 14 April, four riders who made their debut in 2018 will look back on this singular rite of passage. The former Under-23 world champion Sven Erik Bystrøm finished 27th in what was an emotionally charged experience for the Norwegian rider.
No Norwegian rider has ever won the Queen of Classics, with Thor Hushovd coming closest to the coveted cobblestone trophy a decade ago (third in 2009 and second in 2010). Meanwhile, thousands of kilometres away, a teenager was glued to his TV set and watching on the edge of his seat as the future world champion, then riding for Cervélo, launched his bid for glory on the cobblestones: „Thor was the greatest cycling star in Norway at the time“, says Sven Erik Bystrøm. „I used to follow him with great interest and saw him come within touching distance of victory, especially that time he crashed in the Carrefour de l’Arbre. Knowing this, I’ve always found this race fascinating to watch, it’s really special.“

The apprentice tried to follow in the footsteps of his idol from the very beginning by adventuring into this bone-rattling terrain already in his junior years. „Cobblestones are something out of the ordinary. I remember very clearly the first time I tackled them. My local club in Stavanger took us to Belgium for a training camp and a few races. Riding the same sectors I’d seen on TV was mind-blowing. We spent two weeks there, and we went to the Mur de Grammont or the Bosberg every single day. I found it exciting from the beginning“, recalls Bystrøm, who soon after experienced the thrills and rolls of the dice that characterise Paris-Roubaix in its junior version. „I have a rather specific memory of the race. Jasper Stuyven came out on top that year [2010]. I was riding in a group right behind him when I lost a pedal in the last cobbled sector. I missed out on the opportunity to fight for a top placing [39th], but the race still managed to captivate me.“
„The Trouée d’Arenberg is truly spectacular.
We enter the forest with the peloton going full steam ahead
and fans everywhere… This is where things get serious.“
Although this first experience left Sven Erik wanting more, he had to wait a long time to face the real deal: „In my first few seasons as a pro, I was picked to ride the Belgian classics but not Paris-Roubaix, which left me a bit frustrated. I was finally selected last year. I managed to slip into the breakaway and tackle the most famous sectors at the front of the race. Then Sagan caught us and it was extremely hard to hold onto his wheel.“
Bystrøm is one of the men conscripted by UAE Team Emirates to ride for captain and mentor Alexander Kristoff, who could already count on him last year: „My role was to help him, and this is the main reason I got into the breakaway, to work for him once he caught up with us. Unfortunately, the plan fell through after he crashed. Alexander and I live in the same city and have been training together for years. We’re close friends. After winning Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders, he still dreams of taking Paris-Roubaix some day.“
Bystrøm’s 27th place in the velodrome (second-best rookie, after Wout Van Aert, 13th) felt good but not terribly useful. However, the 2014 Under–23 world champion still has vivid memories of all the sensations: „The Trouée d’Arenberg is truly spectacular. We enter the forest with the peloton going full steam ahead and fans everywhere… You really get the feeling that this is where things get serious. However, the Carrefour de l’Arbre was the worst part for me. Apart from the cobblestones, fatigue started to kick in. I was still near the front, so I had to keep going hard, I couldn’t simply peel off and enjoy a leisure ride to the finish.“
Just like the most battle-hardened veterans, Bystrøm started by assimilating and accepting the suffering that awaits riders on the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix: „This race has a special place in my heart. Of course, I’d love to win it some day, but for that to happen I’ll have to work really hard. It’s my kind of terrain, it’s a race that makes me feel good.“ The Norwegian rouleur is heading to Compiègne for the start of the 117th edition with the same prerogatives and determined to keep learning: „I expect another gruelling race. We’ll be fielding an ambitious group to support Alexander. For example, we’ve got a young Belgian rider who’s showing a lot of promise in the classics, Jasper Philipsen [fourth in the 2018 Paris-Roubaix Espoirs]. There’s going to be a big fight, and we have to be ready for it.“


„It’s only in the last five kilometres that it really starts to sink in“
There is a turning point in every cyclist’s career. About forty riders tackle Paris–Roubaix for the first time every year. Bitter or sweet, their first taste of cobblestones will stay with them forever. From now until 14 April, four riders who made their debut in 2018 will look back on their experience and tell all about this singular rite of passage. Germany’s Phil Bauhaus crashed last year, but he is already raring to go for round 2!

Foto: Gerhard Plomitzer (Eschborn-FRA 2018)
24-year-old Phil Bauhaus is one of the rising sprint stars of the new wave of German riders. Bahrain–Merida’s new signing holds the same position at the top of the pecking order he earned at Sunweb and can count on the support of the team in bunch finishes in the shape of two of the most experienced lead-out men in the world: Heinrich Haussler and Marcel Sieberg, with the latter deserting André Greipel after eleven years of good and loyal service and pledging allegiance to the new kid in the block. However, the story changes when the race hits the cobblestones. Bauhaus (whose surname translates literally as „building house“) is more than willing to support the seasoned veterans, convinced that his turn will come sooner or later if he is stubborn enough because the Hell of the North is all about patience and endurance.
„I used to watch Paris-Roubaix on TV and also rode it as a junior” (33rd in 2012, 3′06″ behind the Danish winner Mads Würtz Schmidt, who now races for Katusha-Alpecin), explains the rider from Bocholt, North Rhine-Westphalia. „At just 18 years old, I loved the experience (in the appetiser before the pro race in which Tom Boonen took his swansong victory). It still fascinates me.“
„It’s a unique feeling: a sense of relief
and the pride that comes from such an
extraordinary accomplishment“
Arnaud Démare, Bryan Coquard and Nacer Bouhanni have been painfully aware of just how fast the German can be ever since he beat them at the end of stage 5 of the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné in Mâcon. He went on to claim the scalps of fellow Germans Marcel Kittel, Pascal Ackermann and André Greipel, as well as Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani, to open Sunweb’s 2018 account in stage 3 of the Abu Dhabi Tour.
„As a sprinter,“ he points out, „good positioning is something that comes with the job description, which is vital in Paris-Roubaix. At the start of the race in Compiègne, you think that everything will turn out just fine and the cobblestones aren’t such a big deal after all. However, by the time you cross the finish line, you’re in a world of pain and your whole body aches from the severe rattling it got on the cobblestones. You feel ready to drop. It’s an excruciating race. The distance and all that time spent on the saddle drain every last drop of energy from you.“
After turning pro at age 18 with Team Stölting, then at the Continental level, and signing for the Bora Pro Continental outfit at age 20, at Sunweb he had to wait until his second season in the WorldTour category to get a taste of the cobblestones. „In my debut last year,“ he recalls, „I was supposed to ride in support of our designated leader Mike Teunissen (the Dutchman, one of the riders who made the race in the 116th edition and sprinted to seventh place, ended up 11th in the velodrome, 2′31″ behind Peter Sagan), and our back-up leader Edward Theuns (24th at 4′23″). Unfortunately, I crashed shortly after the halfway point and, from then on, I often found myself on the back foot and unable to help my leaders as much as I would have liked to. I see myself in more of a support role in Paris-Roubaix right now.“
Clearly enjoying the conversation, he continues: „It was my very first Paris-Roubaix, so I was over the moon to make it to the finish (in 78th place, 14′56″ behind the world champion and winner of the race). On the cobblestones, I remember being totally focused on staying upright and avoiding crashes. It was only in the last five kilometres, in the outskirts of Roubaix, that it really started to sink in. Overcoming all these sectors is a unique feeling. A sense of relief and the pride that comes from such an extraordinary accomplishment, one that forces you to dig really deep.“

It is worth noting that, before even broaching the subject of all these painful memories, Bauhaus kicked off the conversation with a caveat: „I’m really looking forward to blasting onto the cobblestones again in support of Heinrich (Haussler) and Marcel (Sieberg).“ The foundations are barely in place, but the next building phase is already under way…