Top Ride: The culmination of my visit to Holy Week was the long anticipated, much feared, and never completed ride across the parcours of Paris-Roubaix. Finally I learned what it was like to battle the toughest roads in northern France and earn my own lap of honour at the Roubaix velodrome.
PEZ-Clusive: From the start in Compiègne to the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest and on to the mythical velodrome in Roubaix, photographer Patrick Verhoest was there alongside the riders. Here's a look you'll only see on PEZ at his day following the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix'14.
On the Friday before the big race Lee Rodgers and the Velo Classic crew hit the cobbles for their own Paris Roubaix for 124 kilometers of torture over the famous Roubaix stones. 18 pavé sections in total and memories to last a lifetime.
Chasing Paris-Roubaix is always an adventure, but one that requires a plan. We'd set out to catch Paris-Roubaix with a four-stop strategy, under the experienced guidance of Velo Classic Tours. But lucky for us, these best-laid plans went awry in the most incredible way. This is the story of how we reached the velodrome on race day.
Roadside: On Sunday April 8th, I had the once again once in a lifetime experience of chasing the most feared Monument of the year – Paris-Roubaix. And just like my ride across these hellish roads a couple days prior, this day was nothing short of ‘epic’.
Roadside: We've been chasing the cobbled classics since the Omloop in February. With Sunday's Paris-Roubaix the cobbled classic season culminated in legendary fashion, and we were incredibly fortunate to chase the race with former Roubaix podium finisher, Roger Hammond and seen-everything-there-is-to-see soigneur, Bart Brackez.
Preview: ‘It’s a circus and I don’t want to be one of the clowns!’ It’s not everyone who thinks that Paris-Roubaix is ‘Queen of the Classics’ – those were the words of Chrono King, Chris Boardman. But for some, it’s an obsession; it took Frenchman Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle 14 attempts before he finally hoisted that coveted cobble stone above his head, at age 38.
As part of our 10 year celebration of what’s cool in pro cycling, we’re scouring the archives for moments and stories that helped define PEZ. In 2004 I first journeyed to Flanders and Roubaix, to see for myself the cradle of so many heroic exploits and ride the hallowed cobbles and bergs that make Springtime in Belgium a month unto itself.
Part Two: When we left off yesterday, the dust storming field had just rolled through Sector 27 in Troisvilles. 26 more sectors lay ahead of them, and we were off to get hold of as many cobbled views as we could before a winner was crowned in the velodrome on a heavenly Sunday afternoon in Hell.
Part One: The cobbled classics often get lumped together, and for the two super cobbled classics, Flanders and Roubaix, they're rarely mentioned in separate sentences. It's a shame, because the two races can't be more different. De Ronde is justifiably known as Flanders's Most Beautiful, whilst Roubaix - her nickname is just as appropriate and perfect: the Hell of the North. We were there once again on Sunday, chasing the dust to Roubaix.
‘It’s a pile of shit, this race. It’s a whole pile of shit. You race through mud like this. You haven’t the time to piss. You ride and you piss in your pants. It’s a whole pile of shit.’ ‘Will you race here again?’ ‘Of course; it’s the most beautiful race in the world!’
We left off yesterday after Sector 20, a few short pieces of pave before the field would do battle with the evil she-beast they call Arenberg. We hopped pass the melee of Arenberg to take in two more sectors of brain banging bumps. Let's take a look around, shall we?
Riding the route of one, a couple, or all of the Spring Classics is one of the coolest things imaginable. Plowing your solitary furrow with the greats of old and now is special. It still only forms a part of the whole picture though. Following one of the Spring Classics live and in person brings the experience full circle. Watching Paris-Roubaix along the cobbles was nothing short of perfection.
After riding the final 17 sectors of Paris-Roubaix yesterday, and typing to you with still swollen, sore, and blistered hands, I understand to my very core that Paris-Roubaix is a race like no other. It is a contrary beast that lies waiting for you to weaken, to slow. I had my moment of weakness late in the day, and, as always, there's a story to tell...
The 'Queen of the Classics,' the 'Hell of the North' - Paris - Roubaix; 270 kilometres, of which 53 are on cobbles or farm tracks in 27 sectors which count down to the last stretch of 300 metres, laid outside the Roubaix velodrome in this particular Queen's honour.
To fully appreciate the beauty and pain that is Paris-Roubaix, one must understand how this race was born, and the battles that shaped her into the Queen she is today… No true racer would be satisfied with only a view to the upcoming race-day – no way no how!
Greg Lemond famously said about cycling: ”It doesn’t get any easier. You just get faster.” And for a sport that values the ability to suffer, the least easy of all races is Paris-Roubaix, variously feted as “the Queen of the Classics” and cursed as “the Hell of the North.” L’Equipe’s 2006 book has now been published in English by VeloPress, and makes a handsome addition to any true cyclists’ coffee table…
A special race like Paris-Roubaix demands special bikes for the race’s special demands. We took a lap around the team hotels to see who had what from Trek, Cannondale, Specialized, Wilier, and LaPierre…
On a day better suited to the beach than standing in dust clouds amongst the mining-country of normally bleak northern France, the sun shone and blessed one and all with a summer–like day. The best place to be on a dry and dusty course was at the front – where CSC’s Stuart O’Grady spent most of his journey into the record books.
It was a day of historic – and epic – proportions. We’d journeyed far, across continents, oceans, and the toughest roads in Europe, to arrive at the route for Sunday’s Hell of the North – Paris-Roubaix. Me and my butt found out first hand what it’s like to ride the “pave”.