Paris-Roubaix: Russell Downing Finishes Dream race


Talking to Netapp-Endura rider Russell Downing after he finished his first journey to hell and back in Paris-Roubaix

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It’s the dream race for many a rider and whilst not every rider can race for the win at Roubaix like Cancellera, Russell Downing racing for NetApp-Endura, did get to finish his first journey to hell and back and fulfil the dream.


©Joolze Dymond/Endura

Back from walking the dog the day after, Russell Downing spoke to VeloUK about his race in Roubaix which began by him trying to get into a move of the front which wasn’t easy when the speed of the race was so high. The second fastest race in history was full gas from the word go and it seemed everyone wanted to be in ‘the’ break.

“I got into a couple of moves and thought each time, this one might be allowed to go away but when the move that did stick got away, I was pretty gassed and went back into the bunch” Russell explained.

“The team then wanted us to bring the break back so we went to the front and worked hard to pull it back and we weren’t hanging around. Every time I looked down, the speed was 49, 51, 62kph, and because we were on the front, that was pretty tough!”


Photo: Paul Burgoine.

The break was brought back just before the first set of cobbles with almost 100k under their wheels and it was no surprise that Rus was pretty gassed as the race sped up again as riders jostled for position ahead of that crucial first sector. Having spent so much time on the front in that first 100k, Russell found himself going backwards at that stage, along with a lot of other riders.

They did manage to fight their way back to the peloton before the race split for a final time for many and sadly for Russell, he was again in the back group or the ‘gruppetto’. The focus had gone from getting in a move off the front to getting to the finish. To do that, Russell and his companions in the group such as Luke Rowe, had to face a lot of cobbles including the infamous Arenberg section.

“We had trained on the Arenberg a few days before and coming into that in the race, I was pretty nervous to be honest. After we’d got through it, it was just a case of crossing the sections off as we went along and surviving in the race.”

“Even though it was a controlled ride through the Arenberg, that was definitely a hard section, quite brutal in places as you go down into it and then up and you have to keep the power on.”


Luke Rowe. Photo Paul Burgoine.

Despite being in the back group, there was no thought of giving up for Russell and the riders he was with. “In a normal race, if you’re out the back with 100k to go, you’d stop at the feed or something but in Paris Roubaix, we all wanted to finish so we’d focus on the sections where you had to ride hard to get over them and then we’d ease slightly on the tarmac sections in between to get the legs back before you got to the next section.”

Asked how the race went for him in terms of luck, Roubaix was a bit of a turn around for Russell who’s had some pretty bad luck in races recently with quite a few falls. “The race was sweet for me with no punctures or bike changes. I almost fell a few times getting caught out in big holes. On a muddy section of cobbles, I was right behind a big crash where Ian Stannard fell.”

Another side effect racing a classic with the name “Hell of the North” is that bodies tend to come out of the six hour battering with more than a few aches and pains. Asked how his body emerged from Roubaix, Russell explained “in previous years racing on the cobbles, my hands have hurt but now they don’t so with all these classics I’m doing, I must be relaxing more on the cobbles.”

That isn’t to say he emerged unscathed saying that instead of the hands, it’s now the forearms that are aching after the hell of Paris-Roubaix. “On sections like the Arenberg, the forearms and biceps were burning and it felt like I’d been down the gym for a few hours.”

The main change on the bike was the tyre pressures (just over 5 bar) which he did admit felt a bit spongy on the tarmac, especially on the climbs out of the saddle but added that it was so important to get the pressures right for the comfort on the cobbles to help keep the bike stable and not have all the energy sapped from the legs from bouncing around.

Unlike some of the riders who opted for big inner chainrings, Russell had a 42 inner chain ring but with a 27 on the back, he explained how he did try and ride the cobbles on the big ring but some times the bouncing around had the chain dropping off the big ring and onto the small ring without his permission.

“Trying to get the chain straight back up on the big ring was a bit of fun sometimes with the hands bouncing around and there were times where I ended up using my arm to shift the lever instead of the hand!”

With both races now done, Russell like all the riders has the memories to remember them by. “I remember watching Flanders and seeing riders walk up climbs and there I was doing the same on the Koppenberg last week. Not how I wanted to do it and then Roubaix where there were so many classic moments like helping to bring the break back and hitting the first section of cobbles knowing there was 150k to go.”

In a race like that, there are good and bad moments and one of those was the key section at the end of the race, the Le Carrefour de l’Arbre sector at 236.5km where he was swinging a bit. “I Was really hurting there and found myself running off the crest of the cobbles and hitting a few bad cobbles which knocked the rhythm out of me and I was like in a bad way. I managed to stay with the group I was with though and got through the rest of the sections okay.”

The final highlight of course was getting to do a few laps of the Roubaix velodrome, knowing he’d done his job and finished the biggest one day classic in the world. If nothing else, he’ll have plenty of tales to tell on the chaingang  on the day he rode the ‘Hell of the North’.

Next stop may well be another classic, Amstel Gold ….




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