Magnus Backstedt, winner of the 2004 Paris-Roubaix, is one of three former WorldTour riders riding this year for a British-based UCI Continental team.
Like Endura Racing’s Russell Downing, whose four victories this season reflect his pre-season priorities, and Team IG-Sigma Sport’s Daniel Lloyd, who is targeting the national road race championships, Backstedt has lost none of his passion for a sport from which he briefly retired in 2009 before returning two years later.
When we spoke to Backstedt, as he prepared for the four of the Halfords Tour Series in Redditch, he confidently predicted that despite the quality of Endura Racing squad, only the slightest improvement would be required to turn the strong performances of his Team UK squad into victories. That evening, UK Youth took their first victory of the season with Niklas Gustavsson.
The Swede, known affectionately as ‘Big Maggy’, raced for the first time in two years last season after setting up the cycling team to raise awareness for Nigel Mansell’s UK Youth charity.
“In 2010, I did a charity ride with Nigel Mansell. We talked about having a team. I said, ‘lf we’re going to do this, I want to be back on the bike.’ Physically, all my injuries from 2008 and 2009 had healed. I was in a good place. I was riding my bike a lot. That made the decision for me, really,” Backstedt told RCUK.
Determined to return to the sport that had brought him success at the highest level (the Paris-Roubaix victory mentioned above, weeks after finishing second at Ghent-Wevelgem; a stage win in the 2005 Tour de France) Backstedt began the task of returning to race form. “It took a heck of a lot of a hard work that winter,” he said, work that included “big miles” and a strict diet.
“The biggest hurdle and the hardest bit was to get myself down to some kind of race weight. It went relatively quickly. By the back end of February, I was in an OK shape. My legs came back much, much quicker than I had anticipated. The power was there, but I was probably dragging a couple of kilos too many. With the races than I’m supposed to be good at the weight is important, but not as important,” he said.
Backing from a sport nutrition company (UK Youth has recently teamed up with Maxifuel) is presumably keeping Backstedt in his favoured pre-ride meal. “I cook my porridge with my protein powder. That kind of sets me up. I’m happy to do six hours on a big bowl of porridge,” he said.
His decision made to return, Backstedt hasn’t looked back. “I loved it from the first minute,” he said. Absence from the race scene had left a void, he admits; the ‘hot air’ of the races, the camaraderie of the team, all missed. “When I pin a number on, I become a different person. I love that bit of it,” he said.
Team UK Youth’s line up is “definitely” stronger than last year, says Backstedt. The “ante” has been upped, he adds, and with it the budget. “We went out and got riders that I thought fitted the bill for what we wanted to do with the team. We’ve got a strong team together.”
Two days before we spoke to Backstedt, UK Youth had placed three riders in the top 10 at the Oxford round of the Tour Series, with 24-year-old Chris Opie finishing fourth. “With a little bit of confidence, Chris Opie will start winning like there’s no tomorrow,” Backstedt told RCUK. “I think he’s one of the fastest, if not the fastest, riders in the country at the moment.” That night, Opie finished a narrow second to the winner in Redditch, Kristian House (Rapha Condor Sharp).
Backstedt remains justifiably proud of his best-known victory, crossing the line first in the Roubaix velodrome in 2004. In a race notoriously shaped by events beyond the control of the riders, he recorded three top-10 finishes, including fourth the year after his triumph. His success on the pavé was no accident. “I put an awful of hard work into preparing for that race. I lived, eat, a breathed that race pretty much every year,” he recalled. “I found a niche for riding cobblestones fast. I loved the crazy-iness of racing on cobbles.”
While it’s possible he may have ridden better (he identifies the 2005 Ghent-Wevelgem as one of his strongest performances before a crash ended his chances), Roubaix in 2004 remains the “pinnacle”.
“In my book, winning Paris-Roubaix is, and always will be, the ultimate bike race and the biggest win that I could have as a cyclist.”