THE FIRST TIME IN HELL (IV/IV)

April 10 th 2019 - 16:01

"As time goes by, good memories prevail over bad ones"

There is a turning point in every cyclist's career. About forty riders tackle Paris–Roubaix for the first time every year. Bitter or sweet, their first taste of cobblestones will stay with them forever. From now until 14 April, four riders who made their debut in 2018 will look back on this singular rite of passage. Tanguy Turgis's first Paris-Roubaix was also his last. A mix of joy and sadness colours his memories of what was an exceptional day on more than one count…

© Credit Franz-Renan Joly / Vital Concept-B&B Hotels
© A.S.O.

Just this one and we're going home! Such was the harsh reality of what will forever remain Tanguy Turgis's only Paris-Roubaix after his career was cut short at age 20, following a heart malformation diagnosis last October, before he had even finished his neo-pro season. Cycling has long been a way of life for the Turgis family. The elder brothers, Jimmy and Anthony, opened the road for their younger sibling, who was neither the least spirited nor the least talented of the three, especially when it came to Roubaix: "The editions I remember well are the Boonen and Cancellara years. Tom Boonen was a class act. He made me want to ride Paris-Roubaix", remembers Tanguy, who became a cobble-gobbler himself from an early age: "I took part in the mini Paris-Roubaix for under-16 riders and then in Paris-Roubaix Juniors, where I finished third in 2016. I loved this terrain and was able to thrive on it, especially in the build-up to the race. You need to be more focused than ever: reconnoitring, selecting the right material with great attention to detail, getting new bikes. All these things put me into a serious state of mind that boosted my performance."

As he continued his precocious and solid progression, Vital Concept's young rider was offered a spot on the team to prepare for the classic of his dreams, even though he had expected to ride the under-23 Tour of Flanders, scheduled for the same day. With just two weeks to go until the race, there was no time to dwell on it: "I remember telling my brother that I was a bit tired and wanted to reduce my training volume to stay sharp. I loved the days before the race and spent lots of time reconnoitring the course with Bert De Backer. He's not really the chatty type, but Paris–Roubaix brings out a completely different side of him. I learned a lot simply from watching him."

"If I could make my heart condition go away for just one race,
I wouldn't choose the Tour de France or any other Grand Tour…
It would be Paris–Roubaix."

Tanguy Turgis clearly has a keen eye. Among all his memories of Roubaix, he recounts the sensations that swept over him kilometre after kilometre; the words he exchanged at the start with his brother Jimmy, who was also making his debut, but in Cofidis colours and at the age of 24; narrowly avoiding a crash in the Haveluy sector; a feeling of rising confidence as he came out of the Trouée d'Arenberg with the favourites, etc. "I knew what I was doing", reminisces Tanguy at the rhythm of his pedal strokes. "After Pont Gibus, the course was the same as in the junior race, so I felt almost at home. I thought to myself, 'we're on an equal footing now, boys, you can no longer count on home advantage'. I was on Mathew Hayman's wheel in Mons-en-Pévèle, riding close to my limit. I clung too close to him and had a flat. Everyone says punctures are just bad luck, but I disagree. I could've avoided this one. Bert De Backer hasn't had any flats in nine starts, while I've only had one in four races on the cobblestones. I think it's a matter of staying clear-headed." A bit further down the road, right after the Carrefour de l'Arbre, the two brothers joined up and brought the hammer down in true warrior style: "We both put in some pretty big turns, just like when we used to train as young riders. We kept increasing our gap to the peloton, where riders like Tony Martin and Adrien Petit were pulling, all the way to the velodrome. It was huge."

Tanguy and Jimmy were 42nd and 43rd on the finish line. Vital Concept's 19-year-old fledgling became the youngest rider to finish the Hell of the North since Belgian Roger Gyselinck… who finished 73rd all the way back in 1939! For a trend-bucker like him, keeping going on an almost empty tank is nothing to laugh at: "Tony Martin finished 72nd because there came a point when he just let himself go. However, as a first-time Paris-Roubaix rider, for me there was a world of difference between finishing in 42nd or 75th place. I was there to fight until the end." Tanguy's state of mind after the race, "disappointed about my puncture because I could've finished 30th", speaks volumes, as did his extremely promising performance. A euphoric Jérôme Pineau, his team boss, even saw him "winning the race some day"!

However, the fateful medical tests of last autumn brought an end to his dreams of glory. Racing in Paris-Roubaix is now a thing of the past for Tanguy Turgis. The massive disappointment reinforced his passion for the race that had already stolen his heart. "Right now, I feel sad because I know I'll never get to experience it again, but as time goes by, good memories prevail over bad ones. If I could make my heart condition go away for just one race, I wouldn't choose the Tour de France or any other Grand Tour… It would be Paris-Roubaix."

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