“It’s a circus, and I don’t want to be one of the clowns.”
So said Chris Boardman in a Eurosport interview at the start of the Paris – Roubaix. Other riders of this ‘classic’ have been rather less eloquent ….
The American television channel CBS covered Paris–Roubaix in the 1980s. Theo de Rooij, a Dutchman, had been in a promising position to win the 1985 race but had then crashed, losing his chance of winning. Covered in mud, he offered his thoughts on the race to CBS’ John Tesh after the race:
“It’s a bollocks, this race!” said de Rooij. “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, de Rooij replied without hesitation:
“Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”
All of which perhaps sums up the romance of a race affectionately known as “The Hell Of The North”. You see, broadly speaking you can divide road cycling into two categories – the one day races and the stage races. The one day races … well, they do what it says on the tin. The stage races are longer races that take place over a number of days with each day making up an individual ‘stage’ where the winner has the fastest overall time for all the combined stages. The cream of the respective crops are the one day classics and, in stage racing, the Grand Tours (The Giro d’Italia, The Tour de France and The Vuelta a España.)
In one day cycling the classics are:
- Milan – San Remo (Italy) – the first true Classic of the year, its Italian name is La Primavera (the spring), this race is held in late March. First run in 1907.
- Tour of Flanders (Belgium) – also known as the “Ronde van Vlaanderen”, raced in early April. First held in 1913.
- Paris–Roubaix (France) – the “Queen of the Classics” or l’Enfer du Nord (“Hell of the North”) is traditionally one week after the Ronde van Vlaanderen, and was first raced in 1896.
- Liège–Bastogne–Liège (Belgium) – late April. La Doyenne, the oldest Classic, was first held in 1892 as an amateur event; a professional edition following in 1894.
- Giro di Lombardia (Italy) – also known as the “Race of the Falling Leaves”, was held in October. Initially called the Milano–Milano in 1905, it became the Giro di Lombardia in 1907 and Il Lombardia in 2012 along with a new, earlier date at the end of September.
So what’s with the history lesson? Well I have just entered the Paris-Roubaix sportive as part of my ever expanding training program. 170km along the same route as the professional race and held the day before the main event which will enable me to watch the pro’s fall off on the cobbles and generally make me feel better about the scrapes I will almost certainly have picked up myself 24 hours earlier. Saturday 6th April is when it all happens. 170km of riding, of which over 50km is on cobbles. I’ll say that again …. over 50km on cobbles…. on a carbon bicycle with no suspension … shiny, wet (probably), slippery (certainly) cobbles. If I do it without a filling falling out it will be a miracle!