At his pre-race press conference Friday, Garmin-Barracuda’s Johan Vansummeren set forth his goals for Paris-Roubaix: make the key selections, stay amongst the leaders and play a role in the finish.
“I’m not speaking about winning,” the rider explained, “but I want to be there on the final.”
By those standards, Vansummeren’s ninth-place finish might be seen as a rousing success. But a top-10 placement was clearly not what the defending champion had in mind Sunday. After an emotional reunion with his fiancée, Jasmine, to whom he proposed after crossing the finish line one year ago, a tearful Vansummeren expressed his disappointment after a long day in the saddle.
“I was there, but I couldn’t do anything,” admitted the Belgian.
“I worked. I worked a lot for this. And then on the day [of the race] I didn’t have the legs that you need to have. It’s a disappointment, but there’s nothing [I] can do about it.
“I trained a lot for it, that’s the only thing.”
Doug Ellis, Chairman of Garmin-Barracuda’s management company, Slipstream Sports, saw Vansummeren’s performance — and that of the team — in a decidedly more positive light.
“I was really happy with the way the guys rode,” Ellis told VeloNews. “Sure, we would have loved to have had [Johan] on the podium, but this is an unpredictable race and it just wasn’t in the cards.”
Ellis praised Vansummeren for his passion and recalled another occasion in which the rider expressed disappointment in his “Hell of the North” performance.
“Johan’s history in this race has been really strong,” said Ellis. “I remember a couple years ago he had had a kind of tough race and he came up to me on the bus and was almost crying.
“He said, ‘Doug, I’m so sorry. I know you hired me for this and I’ve let you down.’ And I said to him, ‘No, Johan. We didn’t hire you for [Roubaix]. We hired you to be a strong racer 12 months a year and to be a quality teammate,’ which he obviously is. That’s why [we were] so thrilled by his success here last year.”
On Sunday the stars simply didn’t align for Vansummeren, said Ellis.
“Part of his success [in 2011] came from the team’s whole strategy and the complexity of people watching Thor [Hushovd] and letting Johan escape. He was strong, but he needed the whole team’s tactics to work and the whole team’s support.
“He was a good presence, but for him to win again today would have required certain luck to unfold that just didn’t end up unfolding. Today was another great result for Johan and I can’t wait to see where he finishes next year.”
In the end, perhaps a top-10 finish in the sport’s most demanding one-day race is nothing to sneeze at.
“No, maybe not,” admitted Vansummeren, “but I expected more [from myself]. It just didn’t go the way I wanted it to.”