Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Superlatives are bandied around pretty loosely when the Hell of the North is discussed; the greatest, the toughest, the best, the most glorious to win, the most brutal, and so on. For me, it's all true. It's such a beautiful race. That said, I couldn't imagine riding it. For the uninitiated, what makes Paris-Roubaix all that it is is the cobblestones, or pavé. Sure, many other races, such as Flanders last weekend, have cobbles. But the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix are in a class of their own. Let me hand over to Chris Horner to explain;

"Let me tell you, though - there's a huge difference between Flanders and Paris–Roubaix. They're not even close to the same. In one, the cobbles are used every day by the cars, and kept up, and stuff like that. The other one - it's completely different ... The best I could do would be to describe it like this - they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That's Paris–
Roubaix. It's that bad - it's ridiculous."

Another observation that sums up some of the sentiment of the race was made by the Dutchman, Theo de Rooij. In 1985 he was in the winning position until a crash put paid to that. After the race, he had this to say;

“It's a bollocks, this race! You're working like an animal, you don't have time to piss, you wet your pants. You're riding in mud like this, you're slipping ... it’s a pile of shit.”
When then asked if he would start the race again, he replied:
“Sure, it's the most beautiful race in the world!”

So, who will win this year? I don't know but hopefully not Cencellara. I say this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, last year, when he did win, was a bit boring near the end. He just rode off and that was that. It was very impressive but didn't make for entertaining racing. Give me a choice between that and last weekend, when the list of potential winners remained long until the very end, and I know which race I would rather watch.

The second reason is, he's getting a bit annoying. What ever happened to modesty?
"Everybody knows that if I’m at 100 percent they have to fasten their seatbelts, like on an aeroplane.”
And on his loss last weekend, he had this to say; "Even Superman can have a weak moment.”

And what about being gracious in defeat?
"I lost by trying to win, the others rode only to make me lose. And in the end the one who was always in the wheels won. Congratulations to Nuyens, but for me [winning] like that has no value.”

All I can say is I hope something has been lost in translation.

Finally, Paris-Roubaix is a great race to get the uninitiated into cycling (or at least into watching cycling). It's got thrills and spills and it doesn't go for three weeks. If, like me, you're working on getting people to see what's so great about the sport of cycling, there's no better place to start than Paris-Roubaix.

The video below is a trailer for the 2008 film "Road to Roubaix". This shit brings tears to my eyes (I have to use the word "shit" to counter the emasculation generated by crying). Why do I cry? I don't know...the music, the drama, the passion. I love events with gravitas and in many ways Paris-Roubaix has more of that than any other race. Sure, the Tour de France has got it too, but that's spread over three weeks. All the pain, crashes, glory and power are concentrated into one potent day.

So, if you're in Australia, sit yourself down at 10.20pm on Sunday, turn on SBS One and 'fasten your seatbelts'. If you're somewhere else, turn on whatever great channel broadcasts the cycling in your country and do the same.

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