Ineos Grenadiers have, so far, been one of the teams of the spring Classics season, with their mixture of youth and experience scoring big wins at Amstel Gold Race and Brabantse Pijl in the last week.
The British squad bring that same mix to Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix, with Amstel champion Michał Kwiatkowski and Classics veterans Luke Rowe and Dylan van Baarle linking up with young talents Ben Turner, Brabantse Pijl winner Magnus Sheffield, and 25-year-old Filippo Ganna.
As has been the case in several races so far this spring, Ineos will once again use their philosophy of strength in depth to play the numbers game at the Hell of the North, with several riders among their roster strong enough to share leadership.
Kwiatkowski is among them, even if he’s among the more inexperienced Roubaix racers on the team. The Pole, Ganna, Sheffield, Turner and Cameron Wurf only have five appearances between them. He said on Friday that he loves the ‘no tomorrow’ racing style of the Classics.
“I really love the Classics, that ‘no tomorrow’ style,” he told the assembled media in Ineos’ pre-race press conference on Friday. “I always get to the races with that mentality.
“I’ve won a few stage races in the past but at the same time there are plenty of them where you have to think about what’s coming the next day or week. Here it’s heavy racing for 250km, and maybe that suits me better.”
Kwiatkowski is one of the most successful one-day racers in the peloton, with two wins at Amstel Gold Race and Strade Bianche to his name as well as wins at the Worlds, Milan-San Remo, E3 Harelbeke, and Clásica San Sebastián.
Sunday’s race will only be Kwiatkowki’s second outing at Roubaix, however, following last year’s wet race, where he finished in 70th place. He said that, despite having also raced on the cobbles in other races, such as the Tour de France, he feels like a beginner.
“I’ve been doing some cobbled classics and stages at the Tour in the past but they’re not really comparable with Roubaix. I always had a good feeling on the cobbles but racing this Sunday I’ve got a feeling that I’m starting from scratch,” he said.
“We did the last 107km of the race,” he added, referring to the team recon on Thursday. “For me it was just discovering how it is to race on the good cobbles with dry conditions and just remind myself how the roads look like between the sectors.
“Obviously, there’s plenty of sectors to remember and so far, I haven’t been racing Roubaix every year, so for me it was very crucial to be on those roads again to bring out the memories a little bit, and also to test equipment, tyre pressure and gearings – all the details that will be important for Sunday.”
Kwiatkowski said he regretted that he couldn’t have raced Roubaix more in the past, with his style of riding more suited to the Ardennes Classics instead. However, the date change due to the French election has offered him a rare opportunity to take on the race this season.
“I think it’s a pity that the body has a limitation that you can’t combine so many great races,” he said. “You have to pick the right ones. It’s always a hard choice and you’re basing your calendar on the experience you have. It can change a little bit.
“The changing the dates of Roubaix because of the French election gave me the opportunity to try something new and combine those Ardennes races and Roubaix. At the beginning of the season, it was turned upside down [by illness] and I’m just happy that Roubaix is placed in the calendar after Amstel.”
Despite the lack of Roubaix experience that much of the team has – by contrast, Van Baarle has seven appearances to his name while Rowe has eight – Kwiatkowski said that he’s confident in the chances for himself and his teammates on Sunday.
“Just looking at the overall strength of the team you have to be confident,” he said. “You have to have belief in your abilities because the combination that we have in the team going really without a true leader because we believe in the strength of the team.
“We have nothing to be afraid of. Obviously, there are plenty of big favourites there to win the race but looking at our past races we just want to go with momentum and use that to our advantage, build on it and go for the win, hopefully.”
Ganna: I don’t know why people think I’m a favourite
While Kwiatkowski is obviously in strong form and should play a key role if he can stay out of trouble, he’ll be sharing the leadership role for Ineos. Italian time trial specialist Filippo Ganna will also be among the team’s leaders as he takes on his third Paris-Roubaix.
At the start of the season, the world time trial champion said he hoped to broaden his racing horizons in 2022. He has three time trial wins to his name already this season, but also mixed it up in the uphill sprint at the Tour de la Provence and survived among the GC contenders on the Jebel Jais summit finish at the UAE Tour.
Now, he’ll be taking on the cobbles once again. He was Espoirs champion at the race in 2016, having finished 15th as a junior two years earlier. He hasn’t yet proven his ability at Roubaix as a pro but is still mooted as a possible contender on Sunday. However, he said on Friday that he doesn’t understand why.
“I don’t know why people think I’m a favourite,” he said. “I’ve done Roubaix two times before. Once I punctured in Arenberg, and the other one I jumped in the car after two sectors. Those were not nice experiences. We hope to be more in the front than the last two times.
“After Circuit de la Sarthe tried to do a good session of training on the track where I simulated the pavé. We’ll see in two days if I can enter the velodrome in a good position. For sure we have a super team. It’s important if one of us on the team can put our heads up on the finish line.”
Ganna joked that he’ll have to “just do a time trial for 250km”, also adding that recent stomach problems have cleared up ahead of the race.
He didn’t reveal much about the team plan beyond the obvious strategy of having as many men into the final as possible but did note that his track background could help out if he finds himself in a battle for placings on the Velodrome André Pétrieux in Roubaix.
“At the start we’ll follow other guys because we know there are really good riders in this race,” he said. “Then we’ll see. If I’m in the velodrome with a little group, then I’ll try to use my skills as a track rider.
“We have a long time before being able to celebrate, with a long time on the cobbles. I have to think where I can try to move for the win, but for sure it’s important to be in the front on the pavé sectors.”