Paris – Roubaix debutant Derek Gee went from “probably one of the coolest moments of my life as the first guy onto the Arenberg Forrest to maybe one of the worst moments of my life standing there watching everyone go past” when a mechanical problem on the iconic sector ruined his breakaway chances and dramatically changed the course of his race.
A five-minute wait for a replacement wheel saw the race fly by the 25-year-old Ottawan and for the next 90 kilometers he battled on solo. 90 kilometers alone with the single objective of making it to the Roubaix velodrome because “there was no way I wasn’t finishing.”
Gee entered the velodrome 25 minutes and 44 seconds down on solo winner Mathieu van der Poel not knowing if he made the time cut or not. But it wasn’t about that. Later in the team bus, it was confirmed that he crossed the line in 135th position, the last rider to make it inside the 26:18 time cut.
This is a Roubaix Gee won’t forget but if his maiden participation is anything to go by, he will have plenty more chapters to write on the mythical cobblestones.
“It was an amazing experience for sure. I was jumping in a lot of moves but at the end of the day, I think it’s a lot of luck that one of the ones I jumped across to stuck and then I had this surreal moment of knowing ‘oh I’m in the breakaway at Roubaix, that’s really, really cool’,” said Gee.
“The part [of the mechanical problem] that was really frustrating was that I had good legs and I still felt good so I thought maybe I could at least find some guys and ride to the finish but there was no one around so I rode solo. There was no way I was stopping. I knew I was going to make it, even not knowing if I would be in the time limit or not.”
Gee wasn’t the only IPT rider to suffer bad luck. Fellow debutant and Israeli road race champion Itamar Einhorn crashed approaching the Arenberg but was fortunately able to get back on the bike and fight to finish, having escaped any serious injuries.
In the end, it was the Arenberg that threw everything at IPT. After missing a key move from a select group including van der Poel and Wout Van Aert, team leader Sep Vanmarcke saw the Arenberg as his next opportunity to bridge across. But the Arenberg is unforgiving.
“Like many riders, I also have my story. Everything was going well at the beginning, my teammates did a good job by getting in the breakaway and being at the front. So until then, everything was going well. Normally before the Arenberg there is always a bit fight for position and it always go fast but I was 50th wheel and I saw the group going in front and it split. I tried to bridge but they went very fast so I couldn’t which was a shame as I felt like it could be a key moment in the race. I knew I had a second chance on the Arenberg but there was a crash in front of me and my chain dropped and I couldn’t get it back on so I had to stop and put it back on and then 100 meters further, the same thing happened,” explained Vanmarcke.
“So from then on, I had to chase back while the race was going on in front. I was dreaming about the podium today and didn’t know if it would be possible but I had really good legs. I think with these legs, a top-ten would have been very possible but I didn’t have the chance.”
Sep finished in 16th place in the end and all seven of IPT’s riders made it to the velodrome, licking bloody wounds and blisters, caked in dirt and sweat. It wasn’t what the team hoped for today but that doesn’t detract from the undeniable sense of relief felt by each and everyone of them. They made it.