In the current cycling arena, two types of races continue to shine -and with a difference-. The big Tours and the classics. The first are like soap operas, races by stages: Le Tour, Il Giro and La Vuelta are the pillars of the season. The classics are one-day races, “from city-to-city”. These are introduced in gaps of the calendar mainly at the beginning and end of the season. Hills, walls, cobbles… a concentrate of emotion in 200 kilometres of race.
The Paris-Roubaix, queen of the classics, equally hated and loved. An essential race that is on terms with the sacred
Now, the three-week tours take the limelight, is the time to look back on the months of April and May. Recall what now seems to be a distant entrance to spring and with that the arrival of the great Classics. Little by little we will review each of these cycling -and sports- monuments, but there is not greater character for this first review than her ladyship the Paris-Roubaix. The hell of the North is here.
Untold stories are usually the most interesting ones. It is thought that the riders of the Paris-Roubaix, do not tell all about their short happy moments and their great suffering, because of pride or shame. Because words are not always sufficient to explain the pains. Those Italians with their tiny crosses hanging around their necks, those Belgians wearing a medal fixed to their helmets -those helmets with leather straps… epical flavour-, and even those atheists (“my bike is my God” as Cyriille Van Hauwaert used to say at the beginning of the XX century); everyone knows that the cobbles of the Paris-Roubaix have something mystical, spiritual…
You overcome the first cobbles and you think you have dominated all of them. But when you reach the next ones, they beat you. And the following ones, reject you very brutally
You overcome the cobbles disseminated in two or three sectors and you believe you have dominated all of them. Who said this was hard? But when you reach the next ones, they beat you. And the following ones, reject you brutally. And when you feel that you are not progressing, you start to count the cobbles one by one. Falls, punctures, twisted handlebars, mud, wind… What a hell! The hell of the North This is how the legend was born.
No other race like the Paris-Roubaix has been loved or hated so much, or at the same time. Then, why tempt the devil where no one can hear you! Why convert the profession a cyclist into an exercise of strength for cargo loaders and agility for sleep-walkers? Why go there?
Why convert the profession a cyclist into an exercise of strength for cargo loaders and agility for sleep-walkers? Why go there? Without doubt, the duty towards the sacred
Without doubt, the duty towards the sacred. Because only two races aggravate so much the springs of courage and of mental failure due to their immense difficulties: Le Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix. The paradise of the cyclist and the hell of the cyclist. Equally attractive. Glory for both winners. Because there is no greater reason for pride like that of reaching the Champs Elysees or the Roubaix Velodrome with the arms raised in the air.
With the dramas that are devise and followed, the Paris-Roubaix seems never-ending on the seat, but not so on the sidewalk with Flemish Lion flags waving and the avalanche of shouting enthusiasts. Before, you had to scan the horizon to distinguish a cloud of dust. Nowadays, the buzzing of helicopter engines raises the alarm. What has not changed is the passion:
“It’s Van Steenbergen! Forza Coppi! Come on Bobet! Champion Merckx! Dai, dai Moser! Bravo Hinault! Strength Musseeuw! Go for them Boonen! Oh, Van Avermaet!”
The echo flies to the doors of the velodrome, paradise after hell. The last effort for the sprint. The desired cobble waiting at the podium
The echo flies to the doors of the velodrome, paradise after hell. The last effort for the sprint. The desired cobble waiting at the podium.
Now there is only silence. The sparse showers of the velodrome like a waiting room, where the disarticulated bodies of the cyclists wander around with an empty look void of all expression. Next year spring will return, and in the pretty and paved expanse of Compiegne, a tremble of restlessness tainted with hope runs once again through the cyclists. They have serious faces. The commentator’s voice sounds far away. The riders nervously sign the control sheet. Mist engulfs the crazy landscape. The north once again awaits their arrival. That latest madness proposed to the cyclist. The Paris-Roubaix. The hell of the North.