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“It’s Paris-Roubaix!” Zoe and Magnus Bäckstedt on “blood, mud, and tears”, plus climbing from the lowest to the highest point of each continent (and avoiding arrest) with Oli France on the Podcast

The most exciting weekend of the cycling year is almost upon us, so we chat all things Roubaix with two of the race’s past and present stars, while an explorer-cum-ultra cyclist discusses his latest record attempt

With Paris-Roubaix, arguably the most hotly anticipated weekend on the pro cycling calendar, approaching fast around the next cobbled bend, episode 74 of the Podcast features two representatives of the past, present, and future of the Queen of the Classics: Canyon-Sram’s father-daughter duo Magnus and Zoe Bäckstedt, 20 years on from Magnus’ career-defining Roubaix victory.

And in part two, we jump from the Hell of the North to ultra-endurance hell on the west coast of America, as adventurer Oli France discusses his attempt to become the first person ever to travel from the lowest geographical point to the highest on every continent in the world, by bike and on foot.


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Zoe and Magnus Bäckstedt, 2024 world cyclocross championships (Simon Wilkinson/

(Simon Wilkinson/

The 2024 Paris-Roubaix not only marks the 20th anniversary of Magnus Bäckstedt’s victory at the Hell of the North – achieved with a tactically astute sprint on the famous velodrome ahead of Tristan Hoffman, Roger Hammond, and a precocious young Fabian Cancellara – but also the first time Magnus, Canyon-Sram’s sports director, will be taking on cycling’s most famous one-day race with daughter Zoe as one of his charges, after the 19-year-old joined the German team from EF Education last autumn.

“It’s good fun,” Zoe tells of her working relationship with her dad, after discussing how she has adjusted to life in the Women’s World Tour, while also mixing it with the elite of cyclocross, following a spectacularly dominant spell in the junior ranks.

“Most of the time you just forget he’s your dad, and when you’re in team environment he’s Maggy. But at home he’s still dad.

“And at a race, if I’m not feeling great or I’m a little bit nervous, he’s always there as dad to give me a hug and make sure everything’s okay. But it’s the same for every rider in the team – he’s there as dad, as well, you know? He’s there as a sports director, but if someone’s nervous or not feeling themselves, he’s like the family dad for the team.”

Zoe and Magnus Bäckstedt, 2023 Paris-Roubaix (Alex Whitehead/

(Alex Whitehead/

“It’s pretty straightforward,” Magnus agrees. “It’s something we’ve done for a long time, since their youth years when the girls have been racing for teams where I’ve been sports director. So it’s nothing new. We’ve found a way to understand each other and work together, and enjoy our time together.”

One particular advantage of having a former Paris-Roubaix winner as both your dad and a DS is the encyclopaedic knowledge of the Hell of the North, and its millions of cobblestones, Magnus possesses, evidenced in his forensic dissection of that 2004 victory, now two decades old.

“When you say it’s 20 years, it does make you feel a little bit old!” the 49-year-old laughs. “Considering Zoe’s now racing it and she wasn’t even born at that point.

“I have some great memories from my years of racing, and chasing after that win. From the moment I first saw the posters, to being on the start line, to managing to get that cobblestone trophy – it’s been a process and a life’s worth of dedication.

“And it was the one thing I wanted to get. The blood, mud, and tears that went into it are as memorable as the day itself.”

Zoe Bäckstedt, 2023 Paris-Roubaix (Alex Whitehead/

(Alex Whitehead/

With that love of all things cobbled in her blood, it’s no surprise that Zoe is already intrinsically linked to Paris-Roubaix, and touted as a possible future winner.

Asked whether the Queen of the Classics – which made its long-awaited debut for the women’s peloton in 2021, when Lizzie Deignan won with a stunning long-range attack – represents the pinnacle of professional cycling, at least for her, Zoe said: “For the spring, for sure. It’s Roubaix! Because it’s a new event on the calendar, everyone wants to win it, as much as they can.”

Luckily for the 19-year-old, Bäckstedt experienced the joy of winning, at least indirectly, during her very first crack at Paris-Roubaix last year, when then-EF-Education teammate Alison Jackson upset the odds by infiltrating the early break and taking a hugely popular victory, an experience Zoe describes as a “cool first taste” of the Hell of the North as an elite racer.

“Obviously we do a shortened version of the men’s race, but it was everything I imagined,” she says. “I also raced the mini Roubaix when I was younger, so I knew what was coming in that sense. But there are also so many cobbled sections before then that are so savage. You hit them and you read the sign, and it’s like 2km, and you’re like, ahhh, great.”

Zoe Bäckstedt, 2023 Paris-Roubaix (Alex Whitehead/

(Alex Whitehead/

But can the Welsh wonderkid win Roubaix herself someday?

“I hope to win it one day, for sure. Absolutely. It’s everyone’s dream race to win. One day. Give me a year or two, maybe a little bit more!”

“You never know what the conditions are going to be like,” she continues, analysing why Roubaix stands out. “We’ve done a couple of recons and it’s been quite wet on the cobbles. And when I say quite wet, I mean puddles everywhere, to the point where you couldn’t even see where the cobbles were anymore, so you’re just riding and hoping you don’t fall off.

“It’s just the unknown, it could rain the day before, it could rain the morning of, changing what you thought the conditions were completely.

“I don’t even know how to explain it, it’s just a really…”

“It’s Roubaix,” interjects Magnus.

“Yeah, it’s Roubaix,” Zoe laughs. “It’s such a cool race!”

“I want to do something that’s never been done before”

Oli France

Meanwhile, in part two, British adventurer and explorer Oli France joins us, mid-marathon packing session, just before setting for the west coast of the United States, where he will be spending six weeks cycling solo for 3,500 miles from Death Valley to Alaska, before climbing the highest mountain in North America, Denali, which peaks at a whopping 6,194 metres above sea level.

This madcap ultra-cycling/mountaineering challenge forms part two of Oli’s ‘Ultimate Seven’ attempt to become the first person in the world to travel from the lowest geographical point to the highest on every continent, using entirely human power, after he rode 1,600 miles last year miles from Djibouti in East Africa before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Oli France

During the podcast, Oli discusses his background in ultra-distance challenges and expeditions (which once landed him in an Uzbekistan prison cell), along with his belated entry into the world of endurance cycling, spurred by his ambition to “do something that’s never been done before”.

“This is the perfect way to test everything I’ve learned over the past 15 years in the biggest way imaginable,” he says. “And when I looked at the routes, travelling by bike was by far and away the best option. It would be a multi-decade challenge if I tried it on foot!”

Oli also chats about his experience in Africa last year, which saw him face hostility (and a barrage of stones and the occasional knife) while cycling in Ethiopia, how to train and prepare for extreme temperatures and the different physical demands of cycling and climbing, and why – after six weeks slogging through deserts, over tough, sapping roads, and in the freezing cold on his bike – climbing a mountain at the end of it all seems like the “easy part”…

The Podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotify, and Amazon Music, and if you have an Alexa you can just tell it to play the Podcast. It’s also embedded further up the page, so you can just press play.

At the time of broadcast, our listeners can also get a free Hammerhead Heart Rate Monitor with the purchase of a Hammerhead Karoo 2. Visit right now and use promo code ROADCC at checkout to get yours.

Ryan joined in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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