Team Katusha Alpecin professional cyclist Nils Politt is “burning” for the spring classics. In an interview with Alpecin Cycling he explains what fascinates him so much about these races in Flanders and what he expects for the Tour of Flanders and for Paris-Roubaix.
Flanders or Paris-Roubaix – what is your favourite race?
Oh, I don’t want to commit myself. I like all the spring classics in Flanders, including the E3 Prijs, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Dwars door Vlaanderen. At the Ronde and Roubaix there is of course much more atmosphere, but I don’t make any differences. Roubaix certainly suits me best as a rider type. At the race last year, I rode into the top ten of a classic for the first time.
Where does this love for the spring classics come from?
On the one hand, as a teenager and in the U23 category, I enjoyed these competitions and have since taken Belgium into my heart. The atmosphere there is unique. The audience can sweep you away and also knows a lot about the races and about the riders. On the other hand, I like the way of riding and the character of the races. Attack department – that’s the motto here. These are real knock-out races. It’s always a small war – in a positive sense. It’s not for nothing that people say that these races are ridden with a knife between the teeth. After every Helling, after every pavé section, often after every curve, when the wind is unfavourable, the field decreases. I simply love to ride aggressively on the narrow roads and on the pavés. A flat stage of the Tour de France, on the other hand, is boring, as one plods in the peloton up to 20 kilometres before the finish.
So you like to suffer?
So to speak; it gives me a kick. I know what I’m doing it for. I like to ride at high speeds, to go flat out and to be at my limit for two hours. My body also dictates this riding style. I always have to go one better and even after six hours in the saddle I still want to sprint.
“Attack department”, is that what you proved to be at the E3 Prijs, the “small Ronde”, a few days ago when you finished sixth?
Yes, the moment was favourable when I attacked. This way I could stay in front for a long time. But what made me very optimistic was that I am in the right shape at the moment. I got out of Paris-Nice well, the 300 kilometres of Milan-Sanremo gave me another boost. If you don’t have any form after Milan-Sanremo, you can’t build it up to Roubaix.
Cross your heart, which of the two monuments do you like more?
I think, in order to be right at the front of the Ronde, I still need one or two years for the next step. I realise from year to year that I am getting better. But at the Tour of Flanders I’m still lacking a few percent to be able to go along with every attack until the end. In the race, the overall life kilometres simply count and as a 25-year-old I have less than a 30-year-old. But: I’m building up more power from year to year, which makes me confident. At Paris-Roubaix, on the other hand, I already can hurt the others with my riding style.
In what way?
I can simply leave my gear unchanged and, like in a time trial, push high wattages over a longer period of time. Paris-Roubaix is easier for me from this perspective because there are no mountains in it. I also feel that Paris-Roubaix is a very special race. Up to the Arenberg forest it’s very stressful. After that, if you’re in the front, everything is open. Then I can also start to play.
Your performance manager Erik Zabel said that Paris-Roubaix is more of an adventure than a bike race compared to the Tour of Flanders because so much can happen that is difficult to calculate before.
Exactly. You never know where you’ll end up. In the worst case, in a hospital. My former sports director Torsten Schmidt once said before Paris-Roubaix that this is a strange feeling for him. He is sitting in the car and nothing can happen to him, but he sends his warriors into a battle whose outcome is completely uncertain.
You’re the leader of your team in the two monuments. How does it feel?
Honestly, I don’t feel like a leader. We have a strong team at the start at the races in Flanders and generally want to ride the competitions offensively. With Marco Haller, Mads Würtz Schmidt, Jens Debusschere and Viacheslav Kuznetsov we have excellent riders to do so. The more riders we have in front, the better are our tactical options. And if one feels strong enough to attack at kilometre 120, then perhaps he can help a team-mate in the finale. I did that myself a few years ago when Alexander Kristoff was our leader in Flanders. I’m a big fan of an offensive riding style.
Do you prefer it muddy and wet or dry and dusty at Paris-Roubaix?
It should be dry. When it rains, the risk of falling is simply much higher. I used to ride it in the U23 in the rain. That was a massacre. The danger of falling on the pavés in the mud and getting seriously injured is huge. Even if you are not affected yourself, it doesn’t feel good at all.
Before the start of such races, do you think about how things went the year before?
I go into each of these races with joy – without any pressure at all. If you put pressure on yourself, then things will tank.
Spring classics are always a question of equipment. What are you riding with?
As in every race, I ride my Canyon Aeroad with the electronic Sram groupset and disc brakes. If it’s wet in Flanders, I’ll probably change from the 25-millimetre Continental tyres to 28-millimetre wide tyres, which have a slightly softer compound and better grip in the rain. I also ride these tyres in Roubaix.
Pictures by Team Katusha Alpecin / Getty Sports / Stefan Rachow