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Toronto’s Ashlin Barry on his 7th at Paris-Roubaix: ‘Pure suffering’

The 16-year-old had a strong outing at the junior version of the Hell of The North

Toronto’s Ashlin Barry on his 7th at Paris-Roubaix: ‘Pure suffering' Photo by: Paris-Roubaix U19 et U23 @roubaixnextgen

On the same day as the pro men raced, there was a battle brewing with the under-19 men at Paris-Roubaix. Although the former is more than twice as long, the junior race at 111.1 km is still an incredible battle with multiple cobble sections. Toronto’s Ashlin Barry, racing for USA Cycling, took 7th, just half a minute behind the winner, Jakob Omrzel of Slovenia.

The first cobbled section was after just 30 km, Barry said. “It was a huge fight for position and very much like a sprint leadout into the first cobble section. I was caught behind a crash early. It left me in a chase group for 5 km or so. That resulted in me having to spend energy to get back to the front of the race.”

The early break

Coming out of the first sector the early break went immediately, Barry said. “Four riders separated off the front with a quick acceleration. An attack, which I was about 15 wheels too far back to follow,” he said. “I quickly realized my teammates were unable to follow the move. So when I got to the front less than a minute later I made a counter attack as I knew a couple key teams were unrepresented. More attacks flew past me but unfortunately every attempt was shut down by the Danish team. And so as the peloton was still quite large I re-focused on staying towards the front of the group. I wanted to conserve my energy by being in the front.”

Barry said that as they entered the next few sectors it was easy for him to be towards the front and begin relax in the wheels during each sector. “I began to see gaps opening and the group would come back together once we were back on the road so I knew it was likely the race would blow to pieces imminently.”

Carnage at sector 12

And sure enough it did. The race then came apart in sector 12.

“We turned into a really strong crosswind which began to cause splits in the group. A gap opened in front of me to about 15 riders and I could see two riders just off the front of that group. I knew this was a decisive moment. So I surged across the gap quickly to be in the group by the end of the sector,” Barry said “Immediately after, I could see the world champion’s stripes of the Danish rider Albert Philipsen and a Belgian rider just off the front. So with my legs still feeling good I put in an attack to go across which was soon shut down by the group behind.

A couple kilometres later they went into one of the hardest sectors of the race: Mons-en-Pévèle.

“I knew this was my chance to get across to the front of the race. The sector was mostly a strong head wind. But still hard enough to wear down the group which was perfect for the short climb that would be cross-tail wind immediately after. I made my best effort to conserve energy on Pévèleas I knew that hill was where the race would be made, and it was.”

The cramps hit

Another rider attacked and he followed with one Slovenian rider. The gap quickly opened and the duo began trading turns.

Soon they reached the two riders who had gone away from the sector before and they were joined by one more Danish rider who had been dropped from the early break, which was now only two riders.

“At this point I felt a big sense of relief and happiness. I knew I had raced well to this point and my legs felt strong. But, unfortunately, just after sector 9 I began to feel a cramp in my legs. A sense of panic entered my mind,” Barry explained. “I had underestimated the change in temperature from the few weeks before I had been staying in Northern Europe and under-hydrated especially for the amount that I’d eaten.”

This would be something Barry would soon regret.

The race takes its toll

“I knew the hardest point in the race was coming so I took a feed from the side of the road. And tried to drink as much water as possible in the following 5 km. I made it through sector 8. But when we hit sector 7 one of the Danish riders in front of me lost the wheel as I could feel my legs cramping,” Barry said. “We were riding straight through a strong crosswind. I just lost the wheel in front of me. From then on I was by myself the following 20 km until the finish. With all the water I had drank and carbs I had eaten I began throwing up and cramping all at the same time. This made the last part of the race much harder. I had no idea who was behind me and I thought the race may all be over.”

Battle royale on the pavé

Just like the pro men’s and women’s race, Paris-Roubaix takes its toll on the body and it’s an absolute race of attrition.

“The last part of the race was pure suffering. I was fighting everything my body was telling me to do. I couldn’t digest what I’d eaten earlier. So all the water I drank made things worse, along with cobbles, of course,” Barry said. “But I knew if I kept fighting anything was possible and there was still an opportunity if I could make it to the front group to sprint for the win. “

Barry said that riding through the last few cobble sectors was a really special experience. Since under-23 and pro riders would be coming through a couple hours later the crowds were massive.

Incredible crowds lining the road

“Through Camphin-En-Pévèle and Carrefour de l’Arbre the crowds were lined on either side the whole way through. I stopped hearing my bike bang on cobbles beneath me. All I could hear was horns and voices cheering,” Barry explains. “For a moment I couldn’t feel the pain in my legs or the roughness of the cobbles and I just felt happiness.”

Barry said that as he neared the velodrome he threw my empty bottles to kids on the side of the road who cheered him on and chased after them in excitement.

Despite his earlier cramps, the Toronto native would almost rebound to make it to the leaders.

“In the last kilometre before the velodrome the group of six came into sight. Just a few hundred meters ahead of me. I gave everything I could until I was into the velodrome but it was not enough,” he said. “I missed out on the sprint and finished by myself 30 seconds behind the winner.”

Still, a great ride for a first year junior in his first attempt at the toughest one-day race in the world.