A Monumental moment – The day we won Paris-Roubaix


Drawing the curtains back, revealing a crisp and sunny spring morning as birds chirped in the distance, the clock read a sprightly 06:30 but that didn’t matter, it was race day at the 2015 edition of Paris-Roubaix.

A race steeped in history as long as its many cobblestone sections, the famous Trouée d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre strike fear into the hearts of the riders in the bunch, but equally inspire the numerous fans that create a tunnel of noise for those brave enough to tackle the Hell of the North.

We sat down with winner John Degenkolb (JD), Head of Operations and Finance Marloes Poelman (MP) who was in the race car that day, and teammate-turned-coach Albert Timmer (AT), to look behind the scenes and reflect on that fabled day.

Making their way from breakfast to the start of the race in Compiègne, nerves and excitement began to bubble and boil to the surface in equal measure, just like the numerous coffees that had already been consumed by riders and fans alike. In a flash and a blur, the pre-race team presentation ceremony and media duties were over and the riders were lined-up in unison, jostling for position behind the lead commissaire car, ready to get the 113th edition of Paris-Roubaix underway.

So, what was your role on that day?

JD – “My role was to finish off the brilliant job everyone else did. To stay calm throughout the day and be there in the final, to get the best result we could.” 

AT – “My focus for the day was mainly the positioning towards the cobblestones. Especially, the part from the start of the race to the first cobbled section. Afterwards, I came back to help where I could, but most of my work happened in the first 150 kilometres.”

MP – “During the race that day I was the link between the people at the side of the road and the race coach. I was in the lead car and I had contact with our staff at the side of the road who had bottles and wheels; I knew exactly who was where and if they’d make it to the next sector. Basically, I was keeping the overview and making sure that everything went to plan as best as possible and if not then we could react quickly.”

A honk of horns, a vibrant flash of colours from the waving flag, and a sudden uproar from the thousands of fans roadside – the race was underway. With a strong tailwind behind them, the riders flew (albeit not literally thankfully) towards the first cobbled sections, completing 50 kilometres in the opening hour. Working well as a unit, the team moved forward en masse for the key points, as the cobbled sections came thick and fast, and the bunch reduced in numbers; with John always well towards the front and in a good position.

What do you remember happening from where you were in the race?

AT – “The main thing I remember is, that everything we wanted to do, worked out. We didn’t have any bad luck, which is also something special in a race like Roubaix. It was like a day where everything fell together. From my perspective, what is vividly clear in my head is the run in to Trouée d’Arenberg sector. The speed was so high, and I remember John was on my wheel. I think by the end of the sector John ended up in around fifth position while I was in last, because I was so on the limit that I had to brake. But my job was to bring John into position, and that he was.”

JD – “It was a nice day where everything went according to plan in the race. Everyone who was involved could 100 percent do their job to perfection, and I was the one able to finish it off and that was special. The guys positioned me brilliantly but then one moment deep into the final where Van Avermaet and Lampaert got away, it was just me and Bert [De Backer] left in the front group. Without any communication we both knew we had to react to that, so he was trying to close the gap and I bridged to him. From the moment he was gone, and I was on my own I had to go all-in the chase – it was a point of no return. It was all or nothing at that moment, either I could make it to the front of the race, and I could sprint for the victory, or I could have been caught and then the race would have been over for me. At that moment I was suffering a lot and it was very painful, but it was nice to have the confidence in myself but also from the team to stay strong in that moment.”

MP – “In Paris-Roubaix it is really hard to keep the overview and that is why I was in the car, so to be honest I was busy so with constantly checking the road book and my phone for messages from the rest of our staff, that I didn’t actually see much action from the race at all.”

With the final moves made and after brilliant work from the team, a super-strong John found himself in the elite front group of seven that charged through the outskirts of Roubaix, towards the famous velodrome that the race is so synonymous with.

What was it like coming towards the finish?

JD – “We had done a good race and I was feeling good so I had the confidence that we could win it. The year before I was second in Roubaix when one rider escaped just before the finish. I had to make sure I was in the first group coming to the Velodrome and from there I was very confident in winning the sprint.”

MP – “We had parked the car and were listening to Radio Tour. It was just a case of us listening and waiting for the news, filled with nerves and excitement. Then we hear on Radio Tour ‘John Degenkolb wins’, and that was such a special moment!”

AT – “That’s a funny one for me because I crossed the line around 18 minutes behind John. I came to the finish and there was nobody there; everyone had all apparently went to the podium. I knew that John won, and I was like ‘I don’t know where to go’ so I went to the bus, but it was only our bus driver who was there. Of course, there is now the famous picture with everybody standing on the podium, but me and Stammi [Tom Stamsnijder] are missing from it as we had no idea what was going on in the excited chaos.”

After a hard-fought 253 kilometres and almost six hours on the bike, the race was over – John Degenkolb was crowned the 2015 Paris-Roubaix winner. Jubilant celebrations and tears of joy followed for many in the team and of course the famous picture which was almost a cycling first with nearly all the guys and John up on the podium together.

How did it feel to win the race as a team? What stayed with you from that day, as either something physical but also anything you learned or took away?

JD – “It was amazing to win the race I always dreamed about, and I also have a fond memory about the podium ceremony, when the guys came up. We were there on the podium together which was a unique moment for cycling, and that was something really special. I still have the bike I rode that day hanging on a wall in my house next to the trophy, along with the glasses. It is something truly unique and they remind me of those incredible memories that will stay with me forever.”

AT – “Crazy. The Classics were a big goal for us with John and we were really well prepared for them. To finish it off that way in such a monumental classic, is great. Also that year, the combination of winning Milano – San Remo & Paris – Roubaix, only three people in the history of the sport have done it before, and John is one of them, so having played part in both of them is special and something I’m really proud of. After the race John gifted us all a watch and I still have that to this day, it’s something special to me and reminds me of those moments.”

MP – “I was just so happy that everything we worked for got paid back in that manner. We were already working on winning Paris-Roubaix for a while. The year before John was second but due to a mechanical, he missed out on a chance to win. In the end, it is super nice that we could get the reward all that hard work from everybody in the team, from mechanics and soigneurs to coaches and experts and everybody at HQ. What stuck with me after that day is that it was maybe the first time in history that there was a team on the podium instead of a single rider. We had multiple riders up there on the podium still with dirty faces covered in mud passing the famous cobble trophy on, which was symbolic for the road leading up to that moment for us as a team. It was not just John winning that day, but it was a win for the team!”

As the spring sun set on the Roubaix velodrome, with the chants and exalted cheers of the crowds no more than a distant echo reverberating around the famous showers, the team packed up and left, continuing their jubilant celebrations after a Monumental day at Paris-Roubaix.

We hope you enjoyed this insight and recap into the 2015 edition of the race, and we hope that it’s whetted your appetite for what is to come in just a few weeks’ time on April 17th as we take on the Hell of the North once again.