Friday, April 6, 2012

The Hell of the North

The pavé
“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.”
That's how the Dutchman, Theo do Rooij, described the 1985 Paris-Roubaix. That year, he was in the winning position until a crash ended it for him. When then asked if he would contest the race again in the future, he replied, “Sure, it's the most beautiful race in the world!”

Superlatives are bandied around pretty loosely when Paris-Roubaix 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."

The 2011 edition had a surprise victor in Johan Van Summeren

Having won the race three times in the past and coming off recent wins in the E3 Harelbeke, Gent–Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, the big favourite for this year has to be Tom Boonen. Of course, his chances are given an extra shot in the arm by the absence of Fabian Cancellara.

Other contenders are Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky), Filippo Pozzato (Farnese Vini) and Peter Sagan (Liquigas). It would be nice to see the BMC riders Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd ride into some form. We'll see...

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...grown men in tears, the drama, the passion. Probably the violins too. Actually, it's probably just the violins.

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. In the Hell of the North, all the pain, crashes, glory and power are concentrated into one potent day.

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