Two wins at Paris-Roubaix, victory in Ghent-Wevelgem and three times a runner-up at the Tour of Flanders, Sean Kelly was considered a king of the Classics and a maestro on the cobbles.
Who better then than the Irishman to talk us through the intricacies of racing on pavé – the warped and potholed stone tracks that litter spring’s biggest races and sometimes make a cameo appearance at the Tour de France.
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Out in the Belgian countryside with the An Post-Chain Reaction team he runs, Kelly takes us down some of the most iconic roads in cycling and explains why the cobbles can be so pivotal.
In this exclusive interview, he recalls the hurt you might feel for days afterwards and discusses the various factors that can amount to the difference between winning and losing in the Northern Classics.
What makes a cobbles rider? Where are the difficulties they might face? Where should a rider position themselves on the road? And how would he alter his bike for the pave?
“The cobbled classics are really special because of the danger. There are many crashes,” Kelly says. “But if you’re a rider who rides the cobbles well, then you can enjoy it, because you know you have an advantage over a lot of other riders.”
Kelly points to the physical elements that suit time-triallists — high power output, and enough weight to carry speed across the difficult surface — but he also highlights less tangible mental qualities that mean sprinters often excel on pavé.
“You have to be a bit of a kamikaze rider,” he says. “A lot of riders who win Flanders or Roubaix are a bit crazy on the bike — and sprinters are all crazy.”