Battle is over for another year. Saxo-Tinkoff rider Matti Breschel trudges back from the showers, squeezing through the crush of fans, families and, bizarrely, French rider John Gadret with wife and pram, dotted round the venerable velodrome.
Fifteenth place: okay, nothing to write home about. But at Roubaix, it’s rarely just about the result.
The most famous washroom in cycling has cleaned off the muck, but Breschel is left with an irremovable sense of occasion, a lasting pensiveness. Maybe a race like this, the race of his year, jolts him from the ordinariness of the job back to the meaning and memory of why he got into it in the first place.
“Since I was a kid, since I started watching cycling as a 16-year-old, there’s something mythical about this, there’s so much history, just in the area,” he says. “It’s so special. It’s the nicest, most impressive race. I don’t mean this edition particularly but just the race in general, it’s incredible.
“It’s also the days before the race. That’s the worst part, when you’re lying there, building yourself up, fucking nervous.
“You’re not scared, but you’re nervous. Restless. You’re tired from the last cobbled races you’ve done. It’s weird. And you know, you just know, you’re going to war.
“It’s a big battle – we go to battle every year. And it’s funny because I’m really into my history. So many battles and wars happened in this area.
“I’m just curious about it. Millions died on these roads. The town we’re staying in this year, Soissons, some pretty famous battles went on there during the First World War and the year 1500, the Hundred Year War, 1300s too.”
In contemporary combat on the cobbles, alliances mean nothing when fighting for a wheel. “At Roubaix, I do become more of a bastard. I’ve just been talking to John Degenkolb – he’s a cool rider and I like him, but you don’t really have any friends in this race, except for your team-mates.”
Sugar, Water, Recovery is featured in Rouleur issue 45 and is available to buy from the Rouleur bookshop.