Jonas Rutsch is ready to rock
Our 24-year-old German classics man can’t wait to start his favourite bike race: Paris-Roubaix
It’s the Thursday before Paris-Roubaix, and Jonas Rutsch has just charged down the Trouée d’Arenberg.
“How are the legs, Jonas?”
“Eh, we’ll see Sunday.” A great big, dusty smile unfurls across his face.
Jonas has been out with his EF Education-EasyPost teammates, reconnoitring the route for Sunday’s race. They’ve spun shoulder-to-shoulder through the French countryside, past old farms, broken-down mines, and flower-strewn towns, while director Andreas Klier has talked them through their jobs for every hill and corner over the radio.
Every time the team has hit a sector of cobbles, Jonas has gone to the front and cranked up the speed, rattling past the cyclotourists who are out spotting pros and trying to ride over the stones in the spring sun.
As those tourists wobbled gingerly down the old French war tracks and were jackhammered by the rocks on their fat-tyred bikes, Jonas was fluid motion, leading a whoosh of flying dirt and pink. It’s as if his body just knows the fastest, smoothest line over the roads. He wants to go faster and faster. Paris-Roubaix is his favourite bike race, the one for which his 197-cm body is built.
He first saw it on German television. Watching Tom Boonen and Fabian Cancellara race Roubaix in the late 2000s was his introduction to the century-old race over northern France’s worst roads. Jonas knew then that he wanted to roll onto the velodrome in Roubaix himself.
“Paris-Roubaix is a special race in cycling, because it is a historic race,” he says. “If you start it, you have the chance to become part of this history, and that is what makes it special for me.”
Last year, he got his first chance.
It was the first wet edition in over a decade. On the mud-slicked cobbles, Jonas showed his strength.
A flat tyre right before the first sector set him back, but he managed to fight his way forward as the day wore on and the riders ahead of him cracked. With eight kilometres left in the 257-km race, Jonas was in fifth position. Just after Carrefour de l’Arbre, another flat tyre forced him to stop. He switched bikes and joined the chasing group. When they got to the wet concrete of the Roubaix velodrome, he was too exhausted to sprint. Jonas finished 11th. Caked in mud, he could hardly believe what he’d just done.
“It was a crazy atmosphere,” he says. “I have never felt like that in a bike race before. The weather was crap from the beginning. At one point, I saw a car wheel just rolling down the road. The one sector I really remember was Carrefour de l’Arbre. There were a lot of people who had been standing there for four hours waiting for the riders in the rain, and they were just screaming and pushing me on.”
Now, that Jonas has seen the front of Roubaix, he is excited to give it another go. His preparation for this year’s race wasn’t ideal. He got sick right before the start of the classics and wasn’t at his best in the Belgian races. That frustrated him, but he has continued to work hard and has been getting stronger and stronger. He and his teammates have done their homework. They know the likely wind-direction for every kilometre of the course and how they will react to moves other teams might make.
And then they will get to the crucial sectors like the Trouee d’Arenberg, which will demand every drop of skill and strength they’ve got.
“Going into Arenberg, there is no more strategy,” Jonas says. “It’s really honest racing. There is no hiding. It is about having a bit of luck and just having the legs.”
Jonas and his teammates hand some water bottles to the French fans who have gathered to see them practice, and then roll off into a forest of chirping birds.
When they hit the next sector of cobbles, Jonas again blasts to the front, absorbing body blows from the rocks as if they were nothing.
His luck is turning. So are his legs.