Frédéric Guesdon: “I just had to finish my final Paris-Roubaix”
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Monday, April 9, 2012

Frédéric Guesdon: “I just had to finish my final Paris-Roubaix”

by Ben Atkins at 5:16 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix
Crashes and punctures deny last French winner a glorious retirement day: young Frenchmen line up to take his place

frederic guesdonFrédéric Guesdon (FDJ-BigMat) bowed out of professional cycling, as a rider at least, in the velodrome of Roubaix, where he made his name some fifteen seasons ago, but not in the way he wanted. The last French winner of l’Enfer du Nord, France’s premier one-day race, had wanted to bow out in style - to be a protagonist in the race one last time - but a series of unlucky incidents saw him finish outside the time limit.

“I wanted to influence the race,” the Breton told l’Equipe at the finish. “I’m more feeling the pangs of disappointment than the emotion of the end of my career. It’ll take some time for it to sink in, but I do have a little time.”

As well as winning the race in 1997, the 40-year-old has had the honour of being the ‘meilleur français” - the first French finisher - on six other occasions. In a race that has always been dominated by Belgians, he had been the Frenchman most likely for more than a decade, but the 2012 race was to turn sour on him.

Guesdon was a victim of one of the first big crashes of the race, on the Aulnoy-lez-Valenciennes sector of cobbles with 110km to go, just as the big teams were beginning to to fight for the front of the peloton on the approach to the decisive Arenberg Forest. He was up and riding shortly afterwards, but was already a minute down as he entered the final stages of the race.

A late puncture cost him any chance of catching up and he finished 18’52” behind Tom Boonen, in 88th place; his worst ever placing in 17 appearances in the race [although he failed to finish in 1998 and 2002 - ed]. Ironically, he crossed the line just as the Belgian was being presented with his fourth cobblestone trophy.

“I didn’t deserve this, I had done everything to finish the race well,” Guesdon explained. “I crashed at the beginning, and then I punctured on the beautiful road. I had no car at that time and I lost a lot of time.

“You can blame it on bad luck,” he added. “There was nothing I could do.”

Despite being so far out of contention so early, and having little hope of reaching the velodrome on time, there was no way that Guesdon could even consider climbing off his bike in what was his final professional race.

“At one point I thought about giving up,” he said. “There weren’t many people with me. I found a small group; with Kristoff Goddaert [AG2R La Mondiale] we rode the Carrefour de l’Arbre [the last serious sector of cobbles with 15km to go - ed] at our own pace. In another race I might have given up, but to have no regrets we had to finish.”

Goddaert backed off from Guesdon as they rounded the final bend of the track, allowing the retiring champion to take the applause of the crowd alone.

Fittingly however, as the last French winner was retiring, some potential future winners of the country’s biggest one-day race have emerged. Europcar’s Sébastien Turgot - after attacking three times before race winner Tom Boonen escaped - managed to fight his way up to the elite group of Alessandro Ballan, Juan Antonio Flecha and Lars Boom, and won the sprint for second place.

The result could also have been all so different for Guesdon’s FDJ-BigMat teammate Matthieu Ladagnous, had a puncture not caused him to lose contact with Ballan, Flecha and Boom on the cobbles of Gruson with just 13km to go.

“It’s balls,” he told l’Equipe as he climbed off his bike in the Roubaix velodrome. “This is annoying; I was among the strongest; I can maybe win here one day but today I’m disappointed.

“I was always in the front group,” he explained. “I was always well placed. When things happened on the Carrefour de l’Arbre, I was ahead.”

When the puncture came, the FDJ-BigMat team car was nowhere near him, and he was forced to take the notoriously time consuming option of a new wheel from the neutral service bike. Team mechanics adjust all of their spare wheels to fit their specific team’s bikes, but the neutral service cannot do this; what generally takes a few seconds between a rider and his own mechanic can take far, far longer with neutral service, as skewer adjustments have to be made.

Unfortunately for Ladagnous, this process took so long that he was unable to join Turgot and Niki Terpstra as they went by him and he finished in a small group, in twelfth place; 3’31” behind Boonen but, significantly, 1’52” behind the group that he had been with.

What is optimistic for the host nation’s immediate future in the Queen of the Classics though, is that Ladagnous is angry, as well as disappointed. The feeling that he was robbed of the chance to take a result in the race will stand him in good stead in future editions.

“I was there when it mattered but then I punctured at the wrong time,” Ladagnous said. "Boonen was at a level above everybody, but I was in the running for second place.

“It’s infuriating, but that’s how it is,” he concluded. “I’ll do better next year.”


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