Things might not have gone to plan at the Tour of Flanders for Matej Mohorič on Sunday, but he’s already looking ahead to Paris-Roubaix in a few days time. The Slovenian rider has been forced to skip Bahrain-Victorious’s team recon of the Hell of the North as he’s still nursing his injuries from his crash in De Ronde, suffering from burn-like road rash. Still, Mohorič has made every preparation to try and ensure that things go better for him on the cobbles of Northern France.
“When I came home after Flanders and I was barely moving, the team said there is no chance you are racing at Roubaix but I said, no no, wait, I think I can,” he explains. “I have road rash and burning skin, because the speed was so high. I think when you crash at like 75kmph like that, it mostly burns, the skin is shiny, very painful and inflamed. I’ve skipped the recon today and I will do it alone tomorrow because I need an extra day to recover.”
Despite the circumstances surrounding Mohorič’s attempt at Roubaix being far from what he would have wished for, he argues that this is a race which is about more than just physical form. Luck plays a huge factor on the brutal cobblestones, with crashes and mechanicals a common occurrence.
“Roubaix was the main target of the season for me, that’s why, even when I had a bad crash in Flanders, I didn’t want to give up doing the race. I stayed focused and I think I'm going to be ready for Sunday to at least give it a shot. This race is not like you need to be one hundred percent to be up there in the mix, it’s a different race and you need to be lucky as well,” Mohorič says. “There were situations before when not necessarily the riders with the strongest legs won. Many things can happen, many riders will crash or have a mechanical.”
Optimising his set-up to avoid punctures and mechanicals has been a crucial part of the 28-year-old’s preparation for Paris-Roubaix. As his famous use of a dropper seat post at Milan-San Remo showed, Mohorič is the type of rider who likes to be heavily involved with Bahrain-Victorious’s mechanics, rather than allowing them to make equipment choices for him.
Image: Matej Mohorič's 2023 Paris-Roubaix bike
“I do like to be involved, I like to test new things but it is mostly the mechanics who are on top of things. They constantly help us to be half a step ahead of our competitors. I'm confident that we have one of the best setups that's possible at the moment,’ he says. “I think it's one of the crucial things that you want as a cyclist to know that you're not behind the competition regarding material, because then you worry they already have a head start, and it's not a good thing for your confidence.”
When it comes to specific changes to his set-up to make the Merida Reacto ready to tackle the brutal cobbles of Northern France, Mohorič explains that he hasn’t felt like he’s had to change his set-up as much as he has done in years past.
“My bicycle is exactly the same as I have used in all other races or Classics, my Merida Reacto. It is the same except for the tyres we swapped. Instead of 30 millimetre tyres that we usually use, or 28 when the roads are really smooth, we will use 32 millimetre tyres,” he explains.
Tyre pressure is one of the peloton’s main considerations when it comes to Roubaix, getting it right can be the difference between making it through the race unscathed or losing the chance of a result due to an untimely wheel change.
“We’ll adjust pressures after we ride the recon, but not all the pressure gauges show the same pressure. They are not completely accurate, they have a small margin of error. It's good to do the recon and try out different things and then use the exact same tool to measure on Sunday. It's not really a big change, it's just making sure that you know exactly what you have because there can be confusion,” Mohorič says.
“The pressure is not crazy low because you have the Forest of Arenberg, where the cobbles are super rough, and therefore the pressure needs to be relatively high. because otherwise you will not make it through Arenberg without damaging the wheel itself because it's so rough. You hit the rim on multiple occasions, maybe 10 times, even with a relatively high pressure. The pressure is similar to what you would use on a smooth tarmac for optimal rolling resistance, so it's not actually a big difference. If there was no Arenberg, then of course, you would go significantly lower, but I prefer to roll higher and be slower on the smooth cobblestones but then survive Arenberg.”
This year, teams like Jumbo-Visma and Team DSM have been seen using a new tyre pressure adjustment system which means that riders can opt for different tyre pressures on different sections of the course, changing it while on the move. Mohorič agrees that this is something his team might look at using in the future.
“I didn't try the tyre pressure adjustment system but I think it’s something to look at in the future to test. I can't have an opinion about it, because I didn't test it but I spoke to some people who did, and they say it's interesting,” he says. “They're not too sure if they would want to use it or not but I guess the choice of other teams using it is a sort of approval that it works, so I guess it’s something we will look into for the future.”
Tyres aside, Mohorič also argues that his Merida Reacto frame has been greatly improved in recent iterations to make it more comfortable for rough terrain.
“The new model we currently use is a lot smoother than the previous generation. That’s why we don’t really use Scultura anymore because the Scultura was quite compliant and the Reacto was more of a pure aero bike, which was not super smooth on rough surfaces. This generation is significantly smoother due to the flexible seatpost and small features in the frame. I think it's one of the best bikes for cobblestones,” Mohorič says.
Mohorič will use 55/42 chainrings at Roubaix
Unlike some of his teammates who switch to a separate bar and stem system for Roubaix for additional stiffness, Mohorič will stick to his usual integrated system from FSA Vision. “I have full confidence in it,” he says. “I've always used it in Paris-Roubaix and other Classics and I also gave it plenty of abuse in all my training. Never once did I have a problem.”
The Slovenian will ride without handlebar tape on the top of the bars, unlike many who opt for double-layered bar tape to try and aid comfort over the cobbles. “We have special gloves from Prologo. It's called Energrip which is a special glove with circular rubber patches. It works as a suspension on a micro-level but it really works. In the past two years we have used them, I never had the slightest soreness in my hands,” he explains.
When it comes to the race itself, Mohorič says he is well aware of the riders who will be the main contenders for victory. “It's obvious who has the best legs at the moment; it's Mathieu [van der Poel] and Wout [van Aert]. There are also plenty of other favourites that are living for this race year round such as [Mads] Pedersen, Nils Pollitt, Filippo Ganna and also some others. They are going to be very motivated and fully focused to perform on Sunday,” he says.
Like last year, Bahrain-Victorious are expecting that Roubaix will be raced aggressively from the start, rather than having the traditional slow build-up to the first cobbled section. Mohorič believes that there will be a big fight for riders to get ahead early and take advantage of being in front of the cobbles and chaos. After his fifth place finish in Paris-Roubaix last year, Mohorič has confidence that he and his team will be key protagonists in the 2023 edition of the Hell of the North.
“We have a strong squad. We have had a good Classic season, with consistent top-10 results in each race. We had one podium in Kuurne but we really wanted to win one and I think Sunday is a good chance still, regardless of the circumstances,” Mohorič says. “It's a crazy race and we know that we can win, we did win two years ago with Sonny [Colbrelli] and everyone will have him in their minds on Sunday. Nobody will give up before we hit that velodrome and the finish line so I think we are ready for the last battle of the first part of the Classics.”