„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…