The 2015 UCI Juniors Nations’ Cup gets underway with the junior edition of the Paris-Roubaix classic on Sunday 12 April.
Six British riders will encounter the brutality of 16 cobbled sections that feature in the Monument - demanding technical skill, excellent bike handling and the ability to endure the punishing conditions.
British Cycling Olympic Development Programme riders Matt Bostock, Nathan Draper, Joe Fry, Ethan Hayter, Joe Holt and Joey Walker will experience arguably their toughest race to date over the 111 kilometres featuring 29.8km of pave and finishing at the famous Roubaix Velodrome.
Bostock and Holt have already endured the Hell of the North. Bostock, 17, was Britain’s highest finisher in the 2014 edition of the race, crossing the line in 29th.
Holt did not finish as Britain suffered a series of punctures that scuppered any hopes of a podium spot in France.
Manxman Draper was part of the Great Britain squad for the junior men’s race at the road world championships in Spain last year, supporting James Shaw to 16th.
Joe Fry, 18, was fourth at the opening round of the British Cycling Junior Road Series, the Cadence Junior Road Race. Fry has also competed at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors this year, finishing 37th.
Fry was beaten in the Junior Road Series by Hayter, who took a fine victory in Wales. Hayter was also in action at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors, crossing the line 55th.
Walker, fourth in last year’s junior men’s road championships, registered 11th place in the Cadence Road Race.
Great Britain Olympic Development Programme coach Brian Stephens admits there is nothing quite like Paris-Roubaix in world cycling
“The thing about Paris-Roubaix is there's no preparation - it's the only race like that,” Stephens said.
“There's other races with cobbles but not to the extent of Paris Roubaix where the cobbles is what makes the difference.
“The only way to prepare for that race is to do it. If these guys are to have careers as professionals it is a good grounding for them to do that and they are all super keen about it.”
Dating back to 1896, the elite version of Paris-Roubaix reaches its 113th edition in 2015. The junior race, however, only began in 2003 and has been on the UCI Junior Nations’ Cup calendar since 2008.
Coming in at 111km, the race is fabled for its cobbled sectors, which are graded from one to five dependant on difficulty with five the most challenging.
The Mons-en-Pevele and Carrefour de l’Arbre are the two category-five sections that are present in the junior edition.
Speaking of the Carrefour de l’Arbre, Thierry Gouvenou – part of the team that sets the difficult levels for the sectors, said: “With time, the Carrefour de l’Arbre has got harder and harder.
“Over the whole sector, I don’t think there’s a single level cobblestone.”
|16||Hornaing - Wandignies-Hamage||3700m||****|
|15||Warlaing - Brillon||2400m||***|
|14||Tilloy - Sars-et-Rosières||2400m||****|
|13||Beuvry-la-Forêt - Orchies||1400m||***|
|11||Auchy-lez-Orchies - Bersée||2600m||****|
|7||Le Moulin de Vertain||500m||**|
|6||Cysoing - Bourghelles||1300m||***|
|6||Bourghelles – Wannehain||1100m||***|
|4||Le Carrefour de l'Arbre||2100m||*****|
If riders can negotiate the demands of the course, a finish at the iconic outdoor Roubaix Velodrome is the reward.
Two British riders have won the race. Geraint Thomas celebrated victory in 2004 and Andrew Fenn in 2008 while Daniel McLay finished second in 2008.
Great Britain’s Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jonathan Dibben finished third in 2013 and 2012 respectively.
How to follow the race
A report, results and reaction will appear on the British Cycling website on Sunday.
Paris-Roubaix Velodrome and cobble images: Luca Pedroni - Creative Commons