Advertisement

Sign up for our newsletter

Advertisement

'The best choice would be to come to the velodrome one hour earlier than last year, that was exactly what happened'

Daniel Ostanek
15 Apr 2019

Evaldas Siskevicius had his 'perfect day' at Paris-Roubaix, especially compared to last year

The Roubaix velodrome is among the most hallowed places in professional cycling, a place where legends are made and dreams are realised. With the smooth surface providing a sharp contrast to the preceding fifty-plus kilometres of brutal cobblestones, it’s something of a sick irony too.

Reaching the velodrome at the end of Paris-Roubaix is, in itself, a badge of honour. Each year riders trickle in long after the stands have emptied. It’s perhaps the only race, Grand Tour mountain stages aside, that sees riders soldier on to the end, come what may.

Missing the time limit isn’t a deterrent either, with 10 men doing so this year. Last April, Evaldas Siskevicius made a few headlines with his persistence, riding on to finish the race on his own an hour after Peter Sagan had taken the win.

The Lithuanian arrived at the velodrome to find the gates shut, with security officials letting him ‘finish’, even if he would be classified as a DNF. This time around, however, Siskevicius’s 'Sunday in Hell' would garner quite a different outcome.

Riding for the French ProContinental team Delko Marseille Provence, he was attacking the likes of Zdenek Stybar and Greg Van Avermaet where last year he was fending off the broom wagon. An hour’s deficit turned into a ninth-place finish, just 47 seconds after Philippe Gilbert’s triumph.

'For me it was a perfect day,' Siskevicius said on Monday afternoon, from his home in Marseille. 'It was a crazy race. All day it was full gas. We were racing even harder than before. It has become really crazy, this race.'

He’s something of a Roubaix veteran, having raced nine editions across his junior, U23 and pro career (80th was his previous best, back in 2016), so Siskevicius knows the roads and reveres the race. Still, it’s quite a jump isn’t it? To go from dead last to a top 10 in just one year.

That experience factored in, of course, but there was a dose of luck too, with no punctures or crashes. Then there’s the engine needed to keep up with the big names over those terrible cobbles.

'It makes sense given how hard I was training. Van Avermaet, Stybar, the best riders for the Classics – between the stars of the peloton and the normal riders like me there wasn’t so much of a big difference,' he explained.

'The most important thing is to have that power. In the cobbled sectors it’s a really brutal power. It’s just about this – if you have that power, you will have no problem.'

Bad luck dogged his race last year, culminating in a puncture on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. That final five-star sector of the race saw Siskevicius having to take a new wheel from his team car, which was stuck on the back of a flat-bed truck after breaking down.

On Sunday, there was no such bad luck, with the 30-year-old staying upright all day and his tyres holding up too. Positioning was the key, with a light blue Delko Marseille jersey ever-present in the first third of the peloton, among the big guns and away from those less adept at handling the cobbles.

'I was really lucky this year,' he added. 'I wasn’t trying to look for problems – I was always trying to stay in the middle, to not take any risks where they were not needed. I was trying to stay focused and stay on my bike.

'There were some crashes, but most of the day I spent in the front so every time I was a little too far from the problems. It was perfect for me.

'On Saturday before the race you’re a little nervous every time, it’s normal. But I was so cool – I wasn’t even thinking about the race. I was focused on what I will do, and I was already having a feeling that everything will be ok.'

Siskevicius, now in his fifth year at Delko, even went on the offensive at one point. With twenty kilometres to race he jumped away from the chasing peloton ahead of the Carrefour de l’Arbre. It was a tactic to get good position as much as a bid for glory.

'I wanted to try, you know?' he said. 'It was one moment when we had some rest between the sectors, and I knew that the next sectors would be really important.

'My director told me that I needed to be in front, and I thought "ok, how can I do that?" and suddenly it was like instinct – there were no support workers for the big names, and I decided I needed to go.

'I was really happy because this move helped me to take a top 10. I think that if I stayed and waited, I’m not sure that I’d be following Van Avermaet and so on.'

Indeed, Siskevicius hung in there even as Van Avermaet pushed the pace. He was there in the velodrome too, sprinting for a top 10 finish few would’ve predicted in the morning.

There was a small mistake, following the CCC leader in the sprint, but still a top 10 result is, in his own words, 'incredible.'

'It makes me motivated because I know that I can still progress,' he said. 'I think the older you are, the better you are at the cobbles. You need the experience; you need to be focused and not be nervous. And I think that comes with age.'

So, there may be more to come from the Lithuanian at Roubaix. And after such an improvement in the space of twelve months, who’s to say that there isn’t more to come?

'It’s a huge difference from last year,' he laughed. 'I was joking before the race because I was asked "what do you want to do" and I said that for me the best choice would be to come to the velodrome one hour earlier than last year. And that was exactly what happened.'

Read more about: