THE FIRST TIME IN HELL: IURI FILOSI (I/IV)
„Just the thought of it still makes my body ache“
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 paris-roubaix.fr all about this singular rite of passage. The race was an ordeal for Italian Iuri Filosi, but he is itching for another go.
„They call it the Hell of the North, and I understood why.“ Watching the race mesmerised on TV, growing up hearing all the stories about Francesco Moser (a three-time winner between 1978 and 1980) or being honed in the Italian school of cycling —nothing can really prepare a rider for his first contact with the cobblestones of Paris–Roubaix. It is a painful shock that Iuri Filosi managed to overcome last year. Delko–Marseille Provence’s Italian rider managed to drag his ailing body to the legendary velodrome within the time limit and finish his first Paris–Roubaix in 99th place, 23 minutes behind the winner, Peter Sagan.
„It hurt a lot“, stresses the young Italian, looking back on his experience as a rookie in a brutal race. It did not take long for his luck to go south. He was fighting to get into the breakaway when a crash took him down in the first cobbled sector. It was only the beginning of a rough day in the Hell of the North: „It just went on and on and on… Yeah, it’s already been a year, but just the thought of it still makes my body ache“, he says with a smile as he holds his left wrist. „I suffered all day long, but I wanted to finish on my debut. I did it. I came in 99th out of 101 finishers, but I did it.“
“I think the hardest part
is the Arenberg Forest.
The bike just seems
glued to the road”
In fact, the months before the race were already rife with ill omens for Iuri Filosi. „I had a difficult winter. I had to skip a lot of training sessions due to sickness and my form wasn’t where I wanted it to be“, he reminisces. „But I really wanted to take part and, above all, finish the race. It was a gruelling experience.“ The Italian felt the aftermath for a long time. „After Roubaix, I got tendinitis of the foot and it plagued me for a good four or five months. The intense pain made it hard for me to race or even train.“
Before the first cobblestones, the ball got rolling in Compiègne with the final preparations on Place du Château and a mid-morning start. A quick glance at Sagan and Greg Van Avermaet, the „stars of the race“, was enough to pile the pressure on Iuri Filosi. „I was all stressed out“, he explains. „I didn’t know what to expect. The team wanted to be up front. I was unfortunate enough to get caught up in a crash in the first cobbled sector. It took me 30-odd kilometres to get back on. In the end, the only ones left were Julien (Trarieux, a teammate of Filosi’s who finished 98th) and me.“ The scenario almost repeated itself shortly afterwards. „Trentin crashed. I managed to dodge him, but I ended up in a field. It took me another 20 kilometres to rejoin the group. I damaged my bike, had to change my shoes…“
The Hell of the North is not known for showing mercy to first-times, and Iuri Filosi had to tackle the fiendish course in a small group. „We rode the last 90 kilometres, or even longer, with three or four other men…“ It was anything but a walk in the park or a tourist ride, but the Italian still discovered a legendary ambience and some of the most hallowed roads in cycling. „The atmosphere in the cobbled sectors… Seeing it was already awesome, but actually experiencing it is quite something“, he says with a smile. The adrenaline rush drives you forward.“
„The last sector is amazing, you know that you made it and you’re going to finish the race“, he explains. „I think the hardest part is the Arenberg Forest. The bike just seems glued to the road.“ Bad enough to call it „the most beautiful s**t place in cycling“, as fellow Italian Filippo Pozzato (runner-up in Roubaix in 2009) once described it? „That’s exactly what it is“, laughs the young rider, whose experience on the cobblestones before his baptism by fire was limited to „just a few Belgian classics with Nippo. There were 10 or 15 kilometres of cobblestones. Compare that with almost 60 in Roubaix…“
Finishing his first Hell of the North was „a personal achievement“ for Iuri Filosi. It shows you what kind of rider you are, it’s a trial by fire. You see whether it’s worth it to focus on this type of races or you should look for something else.“ In fact, he is pencilled in to ride the race again this year. „I hope to have fun“, he says.