It is not easy to be 18, in your first pro season, and one of the big stories of the morning before the third edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes avec Zwift.
When they rolled off the start line in Denain Saturday, Elynor and Zoe Bäckstedt became the first daughters of a Paris-Roubaix winner to take on the cobbles themselves. With media and fan attention growing year-on-year for Saturday’s Hell of the North, this means shielding the youngest rider in the race, 18-year-old Zoe, from all the attention when the Brit likely wants to apply her focus to her debut in the race that made her family name.
“Obviously Zoe is a big name with all of her World Championships last year, her father won this race before and the media want the stories and everything so there’s a lot of pressure from the outside,” EF Education-Tibco-SVB sports director Tim Harris told Escape Collective.
“If we said yes to every interview she’d be doing them from eight o’clock in the morning until eight o’clock at night. So we have to pick and choose” and find a middle ground. “It’s her first Paris-Roubaix at this level so we can’t put too much pressure on her from the outside, but obviously everyone is interested in her because [the family history at Roubaix] is a big story.”
The fascination with the history and culture surrounding cycling amplifies the attention given to multiple generations of talent who once lived under the same roof.
“That’s just the beauty of the folklore,” Harris continued. “If you look at Mathieu van der Poel, it’s not just his father but his grandfather too. That’s part of the sport. When you’ve got generation after generation it just makes it more interesting.”
Van der Poel wore the kit inspired by the strip his grandfather Raymond Poulidor wore when he took the yellow jersey at his debut Tour de France. In slightly similar fashion, Zoe will be wearing the actual piece of history from the biggest day of her father’s career, the pedals from his bike.
Now a sports director with Canyon-SRAM, Magnus could be spotted in the paddock before the start of Paris-Roubaix Femmes; 1.94 metres tall and head and shoulders above everyone else, he’s hard to miss.
“So, for the 2004 Paris-Roubaix it looked like it was going to be slightly muddy,” Magnus began telling Escape Collective about the origins of the pedals his daughter has inherited.
“At the time the Speedplay pedals were notorious for being difficult to clip into if you had any type of dirt or mud in your cleats. So Richard [Byrne, who founded Speedplay], he basically got a pair of pedals, went and bought a Dremel and sat down in the bathtub with some safety goggles and all of the rest of it and cut away the coloured bits on the pedals until he was left with only the metal bit left.
“That effectively became the Paris-Roubaix version of the pedals. So Zoe has one pair that are actually the pedals that were raced [with] and she’s got one pair of spare pedals that were the commercial model of that particular pedal.”
So how did they make their way into the hands of Zoe?
“They’ve been lying around in the house. I don’t actually have my Roubaix bike anymore. But I kept the pedals just because they were that special to me and Richard was like ‘Maybe I’ll have them back of you one day’ for his pedal collection. I basically brought them out one day and Zoe was like ‘Maybe I could race those,’ so I started thinking about it and brought them over and she obviously asked, ‘Is it okay if I ride them because they are sponsor correct,’ even though it’s Wahoo now, and it’s effectively more or less the same pedal.”
“He gave them to me not long after I joined the team,” Zoe recalls. “We’d just moved me to Belgium and he’d had them at home and he was super excited to give them to me. I’d seen them maybe once or twice before. I just thought, ‘This is awesome!’ I couldn’t wait because I didn’t know for sure at that time if I was going to be racing Roubaix, so I was just thinking, ‘I really hope I get to race Roubaix now just so I can ride these pedals.’”
So, history has been made even after less than a kilometre has been raced. Although, Roubaix being a family affair may be more complicated than first meets the eye.
“To be absolutely honest I wouldn’t want to be Magnus because I think that would be super hard if you’ve got two daughters in the race who aren’t in your team and if they crashed or something, I don’t know. I think it’s a hard family thing, I don’t think it’s that easy,” Harris explains. “I mean, on paper, when he signed with Canyon-SRAM at the beginning of the year, I thought that was great but I imagine on a day like today he’ll obviously want his daughters to do well but he’s running a team so his team have to beat them.”
The final question went to Magnus: Zoe may be the first rider to ride with equipment older than her?
“Yes,” came the simple reply, followed by a chuckle.