Guest Article: The Most Beautiful Race in the World

Guest Article: The Most Beautiful Race in the World

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Finally we can speak to this Paris-Roubaix mythology. The Keepers Tour group rode twenty-one sectors at something much slower than race speed. After the first sector we regrouped and we were all stunned by how bad it was. Twenty more sectors of that? That was horrendously tough.

The first sectors are the easy ones. The hard ones start with the famous Trouée d’Arenberg, after which a combination of worse cobbles and more fatigue consistently ratchets up the severity of the stones.   In places it seems more like cobbles fell from a truck than that they were placed. A full report on our rides is forthcoming, but as we prepare for our ride over the Ronde van Vlaanderen route, we give you a Guest Article by @il cyclista medio on the famous Roubaix cobbles.

Yours in Cycling, Frank.

Theo De Rooij may be known to some more famously for his comments to John Tesh after withdrawing from the 1985 Paris – Roubaix than his palmares.  This was certainly how I became aware of him. He was also the team manager at Rabobank on the verge of a nervous breakdown, when he made the decision and withdrew Rassjuicin’ from the TDF for having the ability to be in two places at the same time, in the mode of “I dream of Jeannie”.

Watching a grainy VHS copy of the 1985 race, complete with Tesh’s cheesy synth 80’s soundtrack recently, I watched De Rooij (or De Rooy as CBS was want to spell his name) at the front of the race for close to 5 hours before withdrawing, shattered, from the race. It had been wet and muddy with a headwind for the most of the race. Crashes, falls and spills occurring constantly throughout the race and there was De Rooij alone at the front. He may not have been a picture of Sprezzaturra, but he was certainly leading an impressive bunch – Lemond, Kelly, Moser and Madiot to name a few.

He was caught by Madiot’s bunch and Madiot went on to win, solo, with Kelly in third and Lemond a close fourth. It was the short interview that Tesh managed to grab as De Rooij was getting into his team car for the ride back to Roubaix that impressed me as much as leading P-R for part of the day. Perhaps this was his most memorable moment. Here was a Dutch bloke, covered in crap from head to toe, being asked a somewhat inane set of questions by an immaculately dressed American in an overcoat. He took it in his stride and gave an honest account of what he had just been through without batting a crud covered eyelid and finished off with a huge grin when asked if he would return “…sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world.” His laugh once he had realized the irony of what he had just said, after complaining about the atrocious conditions he had experienced, wasn’t lost on Teshy either. It was a fantastic piece of TV.

It was this that caught my attention as I keep hearing this phrase again and again – “The most beautiful race in the world”. It looks like hell to me: pave, mud, rain, dust, snow, crowds, 7+hrs in the saddle, what’s fricken beautiful about that? Boonen, Fabio, De Vlaeminck, all spring to mind as having uttered these immortal words at one time or another.

So, just what makes it beautiful? Not having done P-R I can only guess the logic behind these words, though I think I get it. While I would never compare myself to be at their level or really understand their why, it may be that the beauty of placing oneself at the mercy of and against the elements, the cobblestones and the environment, not only physically but mentally, to achieve something that truly strengthens and at the same time challenges the individual. To finish something like Paris Roubaix would satisfy an inner need, a feeling of being alive perhaps. As a cyclist I try to do this as much as I possibly can. Sure, I go out for the standard rides, with the usual routes. You know the ones, the Sunday morning group ride out to Waterfall (that’s mine but insert your own here) where we know every little bump, pothole, climb and town line to race for. Great fun but are we really challenging ourselves? Nah, not really, just up the pace, that’s about all if you want a bit of a challenge on these days.

It’s those days where one decides to up the ante: find the mother of a hill to climb, decide to do the (imperial) ton or further than you have before, go out when it’s ball freezingly cold or wet or something else that challenges us or pushes one to their limit as a cyclist. This to me is how one could call something like Paris Roubaix “the most beautiful race in the world” and I for one, agree.

de Rooij: “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 piece of shit…”

Tesh: “Will you ever ride it again?”

de Rooij: “Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

// Defining Moments // Folklore // Guest Article // Nostalgia // Racing // The Hardmen

  1. @il ciclista medio
    Nice article. Chapeau. I’ve not had a chance to watch this years race yet and I was trying to avoid any cycling related sites until after I watched it but the are enough photos of Boonen crossing the line that resistance proved futile. My own thought’s of riding some of the route last weekend are similar, although with a lot less V, to Theo De Rooij’s.

    When I got off the bike in the velodrome last Saturday, I was so glad I’d ridden a chunk of Paris Roubaix, it was a great experience, but it felt like one of those that I was happy to tick off the list and move on from. There was no question that I’d want to do it again. Apart from the first few sections, up to the end of the Arenberg, the pavé hurt too much and took away from my enjoyment of the rest of the ride. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy riding with everybody on the Keepers Tour – in that sense, it was awesome.

    I guess it’s a fine line between not minding that it hurts and enjoy the ride and the pain cancelling out the enjoyment that is to be had from a hard ride.

    A couple of days after the ride I began to question the notion of not riding it again, thinking that my lack of enjoyment was merely a result of weakness and my inability to ride the cobbles in the manner that they should be.

    In the last couple of days I’ve found that not only do I want to go back and do it again, just faster and stronger but I am also looking back on the ride with a smile. I’m sure that it’ll hurt just as much if not more the next time but I know that it’s easier to do something that at first seemed so momentous a second time because I know what is required and can push harder.

  2. Jasmine, that’s what I said. Must be my accent.

  3. @Chris Well said… I don’t think I totally shared the same mystical awe as some of the group, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way – to me it was just a ride, albeit a very different and hard one. But certainly something I enjoyed very much and would love to do again, especially in the wider context of the Keepers’ Tour and the Pave guys.

    Besides, I need to do it another three times to catch up with Tommeke ;-)

    On that subject… have you seen De Vlaeminck’s comments.
    http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/de-vlaeminck-boonens-paris-roubaix-rivals-were-third-rate

    Miaow… especially from someone who (allegedly) bought the Ronde.

    I have read a number of articles etc referring to him being an unpopular rider even in his prime, and one can begin to see why.

  4. Chris – that immediate feeling of never wanting to do it again is one that hits all of us, I think. I really got to know that feeling after my first season of cross racing. Halfway through a race, covered in mud, hoping not to crash at every turn, wondering, “Wait, I paid good money to do this?!” You have to do what makes you happy, but when a bicycle is involved, it’s easy for pain, suffering, happiness, and being drawn to that light to all get mixed up. I imagine I’ll be out there racing again next fall.

    As a Keepers Tour outsider looking in, all I can feel is an immense desire to someday get to ride some of those roads you lads hit.

    On another note, I’d never have guessed that was Mrs. JVS. I even saw her in a photo just the other day when looking at post-race shots from last year. She was truly a redhead last year, now seems auburn?

    Bad Santa. I love that movie. I think it’s pretty damn funny, and Billy Bob does an outstanding job playing a totally worthless, evil, foul-mouthed bastard.

  5. @ChrisO
    And next time you can actually ride on the pavé on the Arenberg. Just like Tommeke.

  6. ChrisO – Woah! Those comments from Roger DV almost seem like it’s a fake article. Jeez, definitely not classy. I guess you don’t get to the top without being very competitive, and I’d say I’m pretty competitive, but when I’m well into retirement I can’t imagine saying such things about such a current top rider.

    I guess I prefer athletes to speak their mind & not just offer cliches but the, “Well, he just tied me but…has he done this!” seems a bit silly.

  7. @ChrisO
    Unbelievable. Must be taken out of context or something. Would love to hear the inflection he used when giving his interview. Esp as Tommeke already has a 2nd and a 3rd at MSR and THREE RVV to go with his 4 P-R’s. hopefully it was said with some humor/honour or else it is pretty sad and very unclassy (a bit like Merckx after his hour record was broken, right Fronk?)

  8. @JC Belgium

    @brett


    @Marko


    @Buck RogersIts Van Summerens fiancé. She was standing on the side of the road as we walked past. Lovely woman.

    I prefer to call her Justine…

    you will make a very good impression on your next date, dear sir. Her name is Jasmine…

    Post of the day for me! Absolutely killed me!

  9. @Chris
    Your statement reminds me of a good buddy and his relating mountaineering experiences- the 2 best times are the nite before with all the gear laid out in its glory to be packed up, and then anywhere from 2weeks to 3 months later when all the indignities and pain/injuries have faded away and the glory of the experience is retained.

  10. @ChrisO
    RdV is a cranky old bastard, isn’t he?

  11. That De Rooij & Tesh encounter was awesome. I was just into cycling for a year or 2 at that time and we were starved for any bit of news from the Euro front. That quote from De Rooij was one that really sucked me into the sport. Having to deal with John Tesh to get to my cycling coverage was only a minor irritation but he also gave us the added bonus of being so ridiculous and out of place that we talked just as much about him as we did the race at hand. To my credit, as much as we were pummeled with his electronica throughout many Tours de France, I never felt compelled to purchase.

  12. @Mikael Liddy

    @Vin’cenza it seems it did a pretty great job. Those dents could explain why I was having some issues getting my thoughts to run in a coherent stream when being driven home.

    Felt a great impact thru the neck. Each one that looked at my impacted helmet realized an ear would have been torn off. Picked up the 2012 Lazer Genesis for 101.00, which includes shipping.

  13. @Chris

    @il ciclista medio
    Nice article. Chapeau. I’ve not had a chance to watch this years race yet and I was trying to avoid any cycling related sites until after I watched it but the are enough photos of Boonen crossing the line that resistance proved futile. My own thought’s of riding some of the route last weekend are similar, although with a lot less V, to Theo De Rooij’s.

    When I got off the bike in the velodrome last Saturday, I was so glad I’d ridden a chunk of Paris Roubaix, it was a great experience, but it felt like one of those that I was happy to tick off the list and move on from. There was no question that I’d want to do it again. Apart from the first few sections, up to the end of the Arenberg, the pavé hurt too much and took away from my enjoyment of the rest of the ride. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy riding with everybody on the Keepers Tour – in that sense, it was awesome.

    I guess it’s a fine line between not minding that it hurts and enjoy the ride and the pain cancelling out the enjoyment that is to be had from a hard ride.

    A couple of days after the ride I began to question the notion of not riding it again, thinking that my lack of enjoyment was merely a result of weakness and my inability to ride the cobbles in the manner that they should be.

    In the last couple of days I’ve found that not only do I want to go back and do it again, just faster and stronger but I am also looking back on the ride with a smile. I’m sure that it’ll hurt just as much if not more the next time but I know that it’s easier to do something that at first seemed so momentous a second time because I know what is required and can push harder.

    Chris – after that ride on Saturday, I texted my wife and said “That was the most painful athletic endeavor I’ve ever undertaken, even more so than running 40 miles, doing a [gasp] Ironman, etc.”.

    But I’ll tell you, when we re-rode many of the sectors on Thursday during the course recon with the pros, the sectors were actually more enjoyable. Probably because the shock wore off and we knew how to get through them. But then again, we didn’t re-ride Arenberg.

    So your thoughts are correct.

  14. @Chris

    Will the true Adam Clayton just admit that he was in Belgium last week with the Velominati Troop!?

  15. I’m decidedly not impressed with RdV’s comments. Ok, so he rode against, and beat, the big men of his day – including Merckx. But his words have a particularly sour taste to them. Look at the field for this year’s PR. I won’t list their palmares but there were numerous past winners of PR, ex world champions, multiple grand tour stage winners, etc, etc. Ok, so Cancellara didn’t ride. Does that mean if Merckx wasn’t riding then RdV’s wins are worth less? Did Cav ride? No, did many other top pros such as Evans ride? No. Horses for courses. I just lost a lot of respect for RdV and I’m really rooting for Tom to win #5.

  16. @McEnroeMark
    +1

  17. @wiscot

    I’m decidedly not impressed with RdV’s comments. Ok, so he rode against, and beat, the big men of his day – including Merckx. But his words have a particularly sour taste to them. Look at the field for this year’s PR. I won’t list their palmares but there were numerous past winners of PR, ex world champions, multiple grand tour stage winners, etc, etc. Ok, so Cancellara didn’t ride. Does that mean if Merckx wasn’t riding then RdV’s wins are worth less? Did Cav ride? No, did many other top pros such as Evans ride? No. Horses for courses. I just lost a lot of respect for RdV and I’m really rooting for Tom to win #5.

    Don’t know much about RdV other than his palmares. It doesn’t sound classy in print; be nice to hear his voice as he spoke (in English, as my Phlegmish not so much for the listening of).
    Does Boonen come back with “let’s talk once you’ve won the Worlds on the road. And points classification at the Giro is all well and good, but win it at the TdF, fucktard.” I doubt it.
    This is like a thread on the cyclingnews forum – rich vein of moron on there if you’d like to go mining – where they’re comparing different classics riders. Does this win equal that win etc etc. Good fun for fans, but it’s just weird to see the actual pros doing it out in public through the media.

  18. @Vin’cenza
    Ooh, love the Genesis.
    Where did you get it at that price, pray tell?

  19. @Mikael Liddy

    @Vin’cenza
    A bit late to the party gents as I’ve been away selling a house and moving etc, etc, but;
    Sorry to hear about your travails. It sucks to crash, especially with a new bike, especially especially when bones are broken.
    Heal up well, and pay no attention to those who would prevent you from doing something that you love as the result of thier fear.

  20. @brett
    ah fair enough – I thought you did for some bizarre reason.. oh well! :)

  21. @Gerard
    Pop in to On Yer Bike in Vivian St, see Big Nath, he will sort you out.

  22. @mouse
    A situation on Ebay where a rider had “too many” helmets. And it is 2012 model, although it is not the proper size. Genesis L/XL starts from 58 and my measurement is 56.5. Need a S/M size range.

  23. @mouse
    Wise words from a mouse.

  24. @mouse Cheers, head in for surgery tomorrow evening to have a plate & screws inserted to mend it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the Faboo pin as they have tendency to shorten fractures like mine at the point where there are the multiple fragments.

    @Vin’cenza looks like I’ll be getting mine replaced with one of those (although the white & silver version) through insurance as my LBS is no longer stocking the 02.

  25. @Mikael Liddy

    @mouse Cheers, head in for surgery tomorrow evening to have a plate & screws inserted to mend it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the Faboo pin as they have tendency to shorten fractures like mine at the point where there are the multiple fragments.

    @Vin’cenza looks like I’ll be getting mine replaced with one of those (although the white & silver version) through insurance as my LBS is no longer stocking the 02.

    Perhaps we could organize a ride for your return — worthwhile and could lift both our spirits. No complications with your surgery!

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