Emil Herzog: Meet Bora-Hansgrohe’s 19-year-old prodigy who backs himself for a top-15 on Paris-Roubaix debut

The former junior world champion isn’t afraid that inexperience will cost him on the cobbles

“I’m not the guy who is going to think it’s special that I just participated in races like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. If I do a top-10, then it becomes special to me.”

Emil Herzog is in his first season in the WorldTour, but he speaks with expectations of himself that are reflective of a rider who has been fighting for Classics success for years. It’s this plucky confidence that has got Herzog to where he is: a junior world champion in 2022, the 19-year-old signed with Bora-Hansgrohe after just one year in the under-23 category. Now, he’s starting the world’s biggest races for one of the most exciting teams in the peloton. For Herzog, though, it’s not the taking part that counts.

“My personal goal at Paris-Roubaix is to be able to try to be in a good position for the sectors because I think this is the hardest part,” Herzog says, just two days before his first ever participation in the Hell of the North. “Once you are there, it’s just trying not to blow up and not do stupid mistakes. I'm quite sure that from the engine or from the watts I do, I could do a top-15. But for that everything needs to be perfect. I’ve never done this race so I don’t know exactly what to expect.”

The German rider has participated in both the under-23 and the junior editions of Paris-Roubaix, finishing in fifth place in the latter. While these races take in some of the same sectors as he will ride on Sunday in the professional category, Herzog believes that the experiences won’t be comparable.

“It's completely different in those categories than now but in general it’s good for the bike handling to do those races,” Herzog says. “I’m not really nervous for Sunday, it’s no different to any other race we’ve done here in the Classics. It’s one of the biggest, but it can’t be more stressful than the races in Belgium, so I’m quite relaxed.”

Herzog wins the Junior Road World Championships in 2022 (Image: Zac Williams/SWPix)

When considering the age of riders performing at the highest level in the modern peloton, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Herzog expects a lot of himself. He points out that Antonio Morgado, who he beat in the Junior World Championships two years ago, finished in fifth place at this year’s Tour of Flanders, something that he considers when monitoring his own development.

“I think the most pressure is coming from myself because it’s my career and I don't need to do this for someone else,” Herzog says. “Two years ago, another media asked me if I was jealous because Antonio was now fifth in Flanders, now he’s really the best guy and I’m not. It’s nice for him but it’s my career and maybe I need a year more or a bit longer, it’s not that I’m jealous or I feel pressure, everyone is just getting younger and younger now and I’m only 19.”

There has been some criticism directed towards riders like Herzog who take to the professional ranks almost immediately after finishing their junior career, but it’s becoming a common trend in the sport. While it allows WorldTour teams to pick up riders at a young age, there are also concerns about the longevity of the careers of riders who have so much training load and expectation on young shoulders.

“I think from the numbers, you can see if you can do it or not. I think the most important bit is the head,” Herzog says. “With the pressure, I can do quite well with it, but some guys might not be able to deal with it at such a young age. It’s more hard mentally than physically, if you can handle it then why not come to the pros earlier?”

Sunday will be a true showing of how well Herzog can handle tackling the cobbles with the pros and although he has high expectations, the young rider admits that gaining experience will be the biggest benefit to his first participation in Paris-Roubaix.

“It’s all good for the experience,” he says. “And I hope it will be helpful for the future.”

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