Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka — Paris-Roubaix

We watch in awe — when all hell breaks loose. The desperate fight for position. For your team and for self-preservation. The prospect of battling the iconic cobbles comes loaded with trepidation — history presides over that. For Agnieszka Skalniak-Sójka — CANYON//SRAM rider and Paris-Roubaix first-timer — her experience of this brutal race is also an opportunity to inspire the next generation.

“I started cycling because of my sisters. My mum organised a race in 2010 — a mountain bike race. It was such bad weather — raining and mud — and I did 25km. I finished but I said, 'I don't want any more of this'.”

"We decided to open an academy for children in our village first — to help them so that life wasn't just about seeing their home and their school. To have the opportunity to do something different, to meet new people. And now there are around thirty children in the academy. They race every week in Poland, so it's growing and the children are happy. I'm also happy to help them and to inspire them."

"They watch me a lot in my races. For sure they will be watching Paris-Roubaix. They are preparing group chats so that they can watch it together."

"When I'm at home I will go with them for small training rides — to motivate them. The hope is that it will be possible for them to go from Poland to a World Tour team as well. If you want it. If you are disciplined. If you motivate yourself. And if you have good people around you who can help you."

"I don't feel the pressure from the bigger races, knowing people are watching, or that this race is really special. But — in my head — I have to be the same for every race. Because if I start thinking, 'Oh no, this is Paris-Roubaix', then I will be stressed and things can change from good to bad. Get ready the same. Think the same. Focus the same.”

Agnieszka was still in touch with the front of the race at the formidable 5-star cobbles of Carrefour de L'Arbre, finishing just 1 minute 45 seconds behind the winner, Alison Jackson.

Words by Ross Lovell, Photos by Dan King