Talkingshop: Flanders and Roubaix for Downing


Netapp-Endura’s Russell Downing selected for cycling Monuments  Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix

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Yesterday (Thursday), Russell Downing learnt that the races he has loved watching on TV for many many years,  are now part of his race schedule in the coming weeks. Not just any races but quite possibly the biggest single day races in the whole of the racing calendar; the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix.


These are the races that have been at the forefront of his motivation to train hard during the winter and as he explained in an exclusive interview with VeloUK last night, his life for the next few weeks will revolve around making sure he’s in the best shape, physically and mentally, he can be in for these Spring Classics.

No ifs or buts; whether its full gas intervals or looking at every piece of video he can find on the races, Russell is not leaving any stone unturned to make sure he’s prepared to the enth degree for these races of a life time.

For so many years, Russell has been the talented South Yorkshire rider who has had to go the extra mile to prove himself to team managers in Europe after dominating racing in the UK. Even when he was given a chance with Team Sky, he never got the opportunity to ride races that bring out so much passion from cycling fans across the World. The races that are household names and for many, it’s a dream come true to be given the opportunity to race them.


Russell racing up Michaelgate on the cobbles to win his fourth Lincoln GP. In a few weeks, it will be even bigger classics he will be looking for a result in.

Now, with NetApp-Endura, after a year with Endura Racing, Russell got his flights for the next few weeks and suddenly the realisation sunk in that he’ll be in the squad for two races that probably mean more to cycling fans than any of the other big classics.

Whilst the races have always been on Russell’s race programme,  for various reasons, a rider can never be sure of being on the start line. First, the team has to be given a wildcard invitation for the event and then, each of the riders has to be selected from a large squad where most of the riders will believe they have a right to be part of the team for such races.

“You give the team a list of the races you want to do and you never get hundred per cent of those” says Russell, adding “but hopefully you get most of the good ones you want.”

Well, Flanders and Roubaix certainly fall into the category of ‘good ones!’


Russell (left) training with his team in sunnier climates. Photo Joolze Dymond.

The start to the season wasn’t great though for Russell as he explained. “I had a set back with the crashes in Qatar and Oman but now, I am all go and ready to rock and roll”. For Russell and a lot of the professionals though, another setback has been not getting enough racing after so many top pro races in Belgium and Holland have been cancelled due to the bad weather.

Russell raced last Saturday in an event won by his NetApp-Endura teammate Alex Wetterhall but the race the following day was cancelled and another semi classic on Wednesday was also cancelled. Even the race today in Belgium has seen its course changed because of the weather.

So, like many, Russell has not had much racing which, weather permitting is about to change.  Russell has a race next week in Flanders on the 20th, Dwars door Vlaanderen before he returns home for more training prior to going out and racing VDK-Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde (3 days of DePanne) on the 26th and then on the 31st, the first of the monuments, Tour of Flanders followed a week later by Paris-Roubaix.


Russell winning in Europe last year and proving yet again on his day, wins like this are his for the taking

After weeks without much racing, Russell faces a pretty intense period of racing in Belgium but he says everything is fine after the weeks of training he’s done at home in Yorkshire. Last weekend, Russell did manage one race after two weeks of nothing but training when he rode the  Ronde van Drenthe in Holland.

In that, Russell explained how he felt really good. “It was extremely cold and a break went and I jumped across to it on my own feeling really good.”

His team got six guys in the last twenty man split and after a break went away with some of his teammates, Russell was in the second group on the road which ended up being taken off course. He explained had that not happened, he would have been sprinting for 17th place.

Results wise, the event did prove to be a nightmare for him and others but the silver lining for Russell was that despite the lack of racing beforehand, he felt good on the road and that gives him confidence ahead of the big races to come.

Talking about his training, Russell explained how he’s had a steady time training this week after a hard seven days last week. Next week will again see plenty of hard training including the Hor UCI category event, Dwars door Vlaanderen  before he returns home to do more miles.

But doing well in a race like Flanders can require more than just good legs. A little knowledge of what a rider is going to face on the day can help  but as Russell as explained, whilst he may be familiar with the roads in Belgium used for such classics, it’s the way all the bergs are linked together in the race that he and his teammates need to get familiar with.



Over the last few years Russell has had his big wins in Europe in Belgium and France, races like Criterium International for example and the Tour of the Ardennes

To do that, he’s hoping they’ll get some time between De Panne and the Tour of Flanders to get a look at the course but in the meantime he’s making full use of the internet to look at videos of last years race.

Asked how well he’s able to replicate the effort on his training bergs, Russell admits that even if he was training on the races actual ‘bergs’, it’s impossible to replicate the race efforts completely. “There is only so much you can do in training and nothing can replicate the type of racing we’ll get in Flanders or Roubaix”.

“I’ll do my best though and hopefully on the day with the crowd and excitement of the moment, it will combine to give me those extra few percent to help me racer harder and faster.”

Then there’s the endurance needed for such a race. Monuments like Flanders and Roubaix are races that will see the riders on their bikes for six hours or more and asked whether he’s been getting used to those sort of rides, Russell replied “we did some rides of six and half hours on the training camp and I have done some six hour rides at home which should stand me in good stead.”

“The last hour of those races is about survival so I’ll be doing some big K’s this weekend and the week after to help me prepare.”

Talking about fuelling up for a race like Flanders, Russell is aware that he’ll need to be strong and make sure he eats well during the race, especially ‘early doors’.


“I am quite bad when it comes to eating in races. I take the easy option of using gels which can be good and bad. In a race of that length, you need to get some solid fuel  (little cakes, sandwiches etc) into the body early on but the races are that crazy, that can be quite hard. The weather can also play a part in that because it can be that cold, getting a hand into the rear pockets and getting some food out of its wrapper can be impossible.”

Then there’s the cobbled roads which require a rider to know how to handle their bikes well and also be efficient on the surfaces that can shake up a rider up pretty dam good. Asked if there is a technique he favours in riding the cobbled bergs, Russell replied he has his technique of racing over cobbles after years of experience but that some days, it’s just a case of getting over them especially if you end up in places on the climb where you don’t want to be.

The main thing is not giving up and to keep fighting he added.

Asked to compare riding the bergs in a race like Flanders to a race in Britain, the comparison was made to Lincoln, a race Russell has won no less than four times. Lincoln, he explained, isn’t too bad as it is possible take the smooth way up using the gutter on Michaelgate which you can’t do in the classics where there are no gutters, just barriers and tens of thousands of fans screaming.

Riding the cobbles he says, in a race like Lincoln is hard work and that is just what it will be like in Flanders made doubly difficult by riders stopping in front of others and throwing the peloton into chaos. It’s where luck plays its part as does good positioning at crucial parts of the race.

For all the difficulties in competing in such races though, they will always be very special events to race in and with his many years experience, now is the ideal time for Russell to be selected to compete in them. Asked how doing these races compares to other events he’s done as a professional, Russell replied “riding the Giro, a colourful Grand Tour, was special but Flanders looks unbelievable.”

“You watch it on TV and it looks crazy so I’m really really looking forward to that and then Roubaix is totally different again.  It’s going to be quite surreal to actually be pinning on numbers to ride Flanders and Roubaix. I do need to treat them like any other bike race though and get stuck in. I am certainly really g’d up for both of them to be honest”.


Finally, talking bikes for the race, Russell races on a Fuji frame equipped with Shimano Dura Ace 11 speed. He says the main difference on the bike for these races will be the tyres they use. The Vittorias he explained were great in his race in Holland last weekend, with punctures almost non-existent in the team which is reassuring ahead of such big events where a puncture and that extra effort required to get back in the race, is not what a rider wants.

The Fuji he says is also really comfortable on cobbled roads with the frame and wheels soaking up the battering the riders gets which means less energy is lost over the hours they’ll be getting that battering on the Belgian cobbles.


For man and machine, the Tour of Flanders and especially Paris-Roubaix, are such major challenges but above all, for those who cannot take for granted getting a ride in them year in, year out like the Boonen’s or Gilberts’ of this world, getting the opportunity to race them, especially at this stage of Russell’s racing career, is a dream come true.

We wish Russell and all his Netapp-Endura teammates lots of luck in the races to come in Belgium and hope that not only do they get to ride them, they also have that little bit of luck that every rider needs to do something special in them… now that would be quite something!

Good luck Fonzy!



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