Johan Vansummeren is almost two meters tall, 1.98 m, to be more precise, but he is also a man with a big engine who rode 15 Grand Tours in his career and took his most significant victory in the “Hell of the North” in 2011, after dropping his breakaway companions on the Carrefour de l’Arbre and riding solo into the famous velodrome.
While browsing through the Castelli image archives recently, I came across these great catalog shots by the Grubers, taken on an unforgettable day in the north of France.
It was a cold, damp December day in 2012, and Johan was bouncing over the cobbles from the Arenberg Forest to the Roubaix velodrome. The cobbled sections were covered in mud. A gravel or mountain bike would have been a better choice that day, but Johan rode his road bike with 25 mm tires sliding through every corner of the iconic pavé sections, cutting his way through the mud on the way to Roubaix.
Together with the exceptional cycling photographers Jered and Ashley Gruber, we tagged along by car to capture some epic photos for the Castelli 2013 winter catalog. These were the toughest conditions we ever have asked anyone to ride a bike in during a shooting – not even the last photo shoot on Zoncolan felt as bad as what Johan was facing that day.
But what caught my attention when flicking through the images was not only Vansummeren blazing across the cobbles, but the words included with the photos, Jered’s text that was later published in our catalog:
“We are flying down the Carrefour de l’Arbre. It’s just over freezing, and it’s almost dark. We’ve been shooting and interviewing Johan Vansummeren for most of the day on the cobbles of Roubaix. On this gloomy day, it has been about a year and eight months since his win at Roubaix, but he hasn’t given away much in terms of emotion when asked about what it feels like to retrace his steps – he did say that he didn’t feel the cobbles of the Carrefour that day. He said it felt like they weren’t even there. They disappeared for him.”
“Whatever feelings he was guarding were brought to the fore though when we hit the Carrefour de l’Arbre – the pivotal sector of cobbles where he left his breakaway companions and went on to victory. He goes faster and faster on that long, terrible straight section to the restaurant at the quiet crossroads. 30 out of the turn, then 40, then 50kph – it’s incredible. I feel like I’m watching the race again, except I’m a bike length away. He is in his drops, his shoulders take on that characteristic lean, his grimace appears, and he doesn’t have to say a word – I know where he is. It’s not December. It’s a warm, dusty, April Sunday, and the road is packed with fans. There is an endless tunnel of noise and chaos, but it’s a blur to him as he rages by on the road with no cobbles.”
Photo | Ashley and Jered Gruber.