Brit Geraint Thomas returned to the cobbled sectors of Paris-Roubaix yesterday for the first time since he won the junior race in 2004. He previewed the course with Sky team-mate Juan Antonio Flecha, who will lead the team in Sunday's professional race.
"It was quite weird, it felt like it was just yesterday that I was there racing as a junior," 23 year-old Thomas told Cycling Weekly. "It is a nice velodrome, the banking is pretty steep and it provides a great atmosphere to finish the race. I am looking forward to it and I hope I get in there."
In 2004, Thomas and Sky team-mate Ian Stannard raced for the national team and lined up for the junior version. They went off only three hours before the professionals' race and took in all the cobbled sectors following the Arenberg Forest.
Thomas and Stannard led the race in the finale by only 20 to 30 seconds on a group of chasers. In the last turn into the velodrome, Stannard went the wrong way and Thomas rode solo into the velodrome and won. Stannard recovered to just take second place.
"I had more time to bask in the glory," Thomas said with a laugh.
"I was pretty confident for the sprint because I have a track background, but I didn't need it. Coming into the velodrome, Ian just went straight and I followed the arrow right. I wasn't going to wait."
The two reconnoitred the course yesterday with Flecha and their other Paris-Roubaix team-mates. They rode all the sectors and were the only team to continue through the final sector and into the Roubaix velodrome.
"It was the first time I have ridden them [the cobbles] since then. They are quite a bit rougher than the ones at the Tour of Flanders, the cobbles are bigger and there are huge gaps in between them.
"When I first came up to ride the classics in Belgium this year, I thought, 'Ah, these aren't too bad and aren't as bad as what I remember in Roubaix.' When I was out yesterday it hit me how bad the French cobbles really are in comparison."
Thomas has impressed his team directors and Flecha since coming to race in Belgium two weeks ago. He helped Flecha get into the winning move and finish an eventual third in the E3 Prijs and rode at the front for the majority of Flanders Sunday.
"He is a guy for the future," Flecha said.
"It is flattering coming from riders like him, with so much experience," continued Thomas. "That praise is encouraging and gives you that extra little bit of confidence."
Can Thomas make the jump from the junior win to claim the professional version in the coming years?
"I'd like to think so, but maybe I should ride it first and see what happens. After these races in Belgium I have a lot more confidence to come back here to work well for the team and, who knows, maybe to go for it myself."
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