PezCycling News - What's Cool In Road Cycling : Roadside PEZ: Ed’s Paris-Roubaix’07

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Roadside PEZ: Ed’s Paris-Roubaix’07
As we count down to Sunday and the Hell of the North, Ed Hood looks back at the 2007 Paris Roubaix and how the under dog, Stuart O'Grady, left the top riders in his dust (it was dry that year). As a regular to the Queen Classic, Ed and his pals always inspect the cobbles of Arenberg, the mechanics at work, the Roubaix velodrome and, of course, a local French bar.



Cancellara and Boonen were on five stars; Hoste, Van Petegem, Flecha, Gusev, Ballan and Pippo on four with Backstedt, Guesdon, Burghardt, Nuyens and Steegmans on three.

Way down the rankings on two stars with Van Bon, De Jongh, Hammond. . . was a certain Australian gentleman, Stuart O’Grady by name but it would be he who hoisted that coveted cobble stone above his head, not his five starred CSC team mate, Fabian – who duly made a reasonable job of not looking disgusted with 19th place.

But we’re ahead of ourselves, let’s go back to the Friday before the Sunday in Hell. . .

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On the final sector of cobbles outside the velodrome there’s the name of every winner etched into the stones – we took pictures of a few but surely Il Campionissimmo has to take pride of place?

Grand Tour Maestro, pursuiter supreme, chronoman, Classics Man and winner over the Hell of the North – truly, a Legend .

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We got to examine that strip of white paint which men will and have done anything to cross first – endless kilometers in the rain training, crashes, endured hunger and thirst, bribes given and taken, and of course, all manner of chemical assistance. But just one man each year gets to that inch of white paint first – and when he does, he becomes part of the Legend.

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And there’s the bell – the harbinger of joy or doom depending on how much is left in your legs and mind.

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After our wander round the velodrome with Dave reminiscing about his VC Roubaix days, we headed out onto the parcours where the ‘pavement artists’ were already busy – a big Tom Boonen win in Belgium is special but alas the ‘Tornado’ had to settle for sixth that day.

There was one sector we just had to visit; it has different names, the Forest of Arenberg but also known as the 'Tranchée d‘Arenberg' – the ‘Arenberg Trench’ because it’s almost always wet in there due to the overhanging trees. We were lucky, it was a glorious spring day.

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The original route is said to have been pioneered by The Romans - it’s certainly straight enough to have been engineered by the Legions - and was used to transport coal by horse and cart out of the colliery which sits at the start of the forest.

Former World Road Race Champion, Jean Stablinski it was who introduced the Arenberg cobbles to the organizers – Polish by birth he was naturalized as a Frenchman at 16 and worked in the mines below Arenberg before he became a professional rider boasting that he was the only man who’d walked on and beneath the notorious sets.

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As we said in de Ronde preview, it wouldn’t do to think too much about what you’re going to be riding over on sprint rims and fragile tubular tyres just over an inch wide.

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On a mild spring day with the birds singing in the woods and locals out for a walk or to exercise their horses it’s a nice place to be – but that’s an illusion, this is a vicious sector, a place where Johan Museeuw almost lost his leg after a bad crash.

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If Friday is ‘check our Arenberg day' then Saturday is ‘bug the mechanics day.’

There’s the usual 28 mil. tyres, cyclo-cross bikes complete with cantilever brakes and additional levers on the flats of the bars but also little things – like the pop rivet through the seat tube into the seat post on Ballan’s bike to prevent any slippage.

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Race day and we need to see what the papers say – and a beer, before we head into the ‘secteurs.’

The wee country bars in Northern France are cool; if you’re an ‘outsider’ when the locals come in they come across, say ‘bon jour’ and shake your hand – civilized.

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It was a mild day with a bit of a heat haze and lots of dust as the string hammered into out sector, riding on the crown where the cobbles are not quite so damaging to the posterior.

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The next group through was led by 1995 Gent-Wevelgem winner, Lars Michaelsen for Cancellara with 2004 Roubaix winner Backstedt and 2002 Ronde winner Wesemann in close attendance. The cream was at the top already.

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It’s actually a hard race to follow because of its place to place nature and we narrowly missed them a time or two and had to scramble ‘last gasp’ pictures. That flyover was about as high as they had to climb on the day.

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Despite the big Boonen v. Cancellara billing it was the ‘le troisieme larron’ – ‘the third thief’ who stole the jewels. Aussie O’Grady went up the road leaving CSC team leader Cancellara stranded behind, unable to chase.

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Leukemans, Flecha, Wesemann and Petito were next onto the velodrome; all of them wanting on the podium – still a highly prestigious result.

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And it was Buenos Aires best-ever pave rider, Juan Antonio Flecha who beat hard man and Pez interviewee, Wesemann into third – the stocky German from Wolmirstedt in Saxony-Anhalt won the Peace Race four times.

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Wesemann’s visage as he answered the inevitable post-race questions said it all – but not a bad result at all for his second string Wiesenhof team.

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Pippo meanwhile had other things on his mind – what the hell was he going to do with his hair? Gel, dust and cold water – a bad combination, his hairdresser would disown him when he saw this mess. Pippo finished 35th that day and he’s still capable of a top ten in the Primavera ten years later, despite poking a little fun at the man’s hair we have respect for him – a colorful, charismatic man in an increasingly ‘grey’ peloton.

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French Champion, Florent Brard meanwhile looked like he’d stopped off at the Arenberg Colliery and loaded a couple of tons of black gold onto the wagons.

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The 2004 winner, big Magnus Backstedt was philosophical about his 47th spot; ‘you can’t win every year. . .

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And that was ‘The Queen of the Classics for another year, history made with an Aussie winner and us wishing we’d stayed for the Scheldeprijs on Wednesday. . .






It was November 2005 when Ed Hood first penned a piece for PEZ, on US legend Mike Neel. Since then he's covered all of the Grand Tours and Monuments for PEZ and has an article count in excess of 1,600 in the archive. He was a Scottish champion cyclist himself - many years and kilograms ago - and still owns a Klein Attitude, Dura Ace carbon Giant and a Fixie. He and fellow Scot and PEZ contributor Martin Williamson run the Scottish site www.veloveritas.co.uk where more of his musings on our sport can be found.

 


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