Guest Article: The Most Beautiful Race in the World

Photo courtesy of The Friends of Roubaix

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!”

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114 Replies to “Guest Article: The Most Beautiful Race in the World”

  1. @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.

  2. @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.

  3. 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.

  4. @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.

  5. @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.

  6. @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.

  7. @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.

  8. @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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