Anatomy of a Photo: 1990 Paris-Roubaix

Laurent Fignon & Urs Freuler do the limbo; photo: Yuzuru Sunada

I stared at this photo for about 13 minutes before realizing I should stare at it at least one minute longer.  The simple reason is that this is one of the greatest cycling photos in history.  Firstly, one need only glance briefly between Fignon’s legs to spot one of the most gorgeous seatposts ever given to this great sport by St. Campagnolo: the Record Aero.   Fignon is also sporting what is perhaps the most iconic pair of kicks in cycling: the original Sidi Genius – the first cycling shoe to bear a ratchet mechanism rather than a Velcro strap or shoelace tie.  The eyes must drift rightward only a few centimeters to fall upon the  image of Urs Freuler to appreciate the technological dichotomy of the age: Freuler rides the stones aboard a machine equipped with the cutting-edge technology of the day, the Shimano STI lever, paired to the Dodo bird of cycling tradition – toe-clips and lace-up shoes.  Fignon, in painful contrast, rides the most advanced shoes and pedals available at the time but is pawing at downtube shiters, being forced to hold the bars with one hand to shift as he bounces over the pavé.

After spending a few minutes appreciating the tale this photo dares tell, the Velominatus within emerges and my mind immediately moves to the Rules.  Fignon appears to be in compliance, despite wearing the Ugliest Kit Ever.   (There’s no Rule against wearing ugly kit if you are a pro, but I have to say it comes as no great surprise that few riders had the courage to win in the Castorama Overalls which mark a low point in kit design.)  His only violation is Rule #36 which stipulates that  you can’t wear spectacles (and also implies that you don’t collect $200 when you pass Go.)  The one significant question is have is this: what in that road is making a two-time winner of the Tour look so scared?

Freuler, on the other hand, has several problems to grapple with.  First, there’s the Facial Hair Rule: No Mustaches.  Second, not only is his stack-height in blatant violation, but it appears his head-tube has been artificially enhanced to rise what appears to be 3cm above the top tube.  That works out to almost 6cm of stack height total.  Shit, is he trying for a record?

And someone please tell me where I can get a pair of those sunglasses.

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15 Replies to “Anatomy of a Photo: 1990 Paris-Roubaix”

  1. The dude on the far left standing next to Rosanne Barr seems to agree. He’s either pointing at:
    A. Fignon’s seatpost
    B. Fignon’s ugly kit
    C. Freuler’s toe clips

  2. @Marko
    Yeah, it’s hard to get a good feel for the depth of the photo; based on where that dude is would pretty much figure which he’s pointing at. Although, if I was a gambling man, I would say he’s pointing at the seatpost based on a casual triangulation of his finger, the seatpost, and Chick in the Yellow Scarf’s shocked stare.

    But you make a good point, that crowd is awesome. What’s with the guy in the sweatpants doing the tondu? And is that Danilo Di Luca in the upper right?

  3. @frank

    Not only is he doing the tondu, he’s doing it wearing climbing shoes.
    And the dude standing in front of Di Luca with the camera is definately taking a picture of Fignon’s seatpost.

    But I wouldn’t say Fignon’s expresssion is that of fear, it’s more cautiously optimistic, as if he’s thinking; “hey, I’m riding the trenches! It’s a little squirly but not as bumpy as the pave and kinda fun. I got this man.”

  4. @Marko

    And the dude standing in front of Di Luca with the camera is definately taking a picture of Fignon’s seatpost.

    Maybe that’s why Fignon is sticking his ass out like that, so as not to obstruct the shot.

    I don’t know about you, but if you ask me, we’ve had way to many dry cobbled classics lately. I’m hopin’ for some muddy stones this April!

    Check out to sloppy his front tire is – he’s goin’ down for shizzle. I say that’s one scared dood.

  5. Bugger the seatpost, what about that awesome ‘stash? Sweet Jesus Urs is rocking it. The ‘stash is not legal but he looks like Robert Goulet in lycra.

    I think I see Steve Bauer in the background or another helmet wearing 7-11 rider.

  6. @john
    Sharp eye, Sparky! Shit, those helmets amounted to little more than hollowed-out bowling balls, only less comfortable. Jesus those sucked. Hairnets were the shit back then.

    This post is making me realize that there’s no mullet/ponytail rule. Must add. Fignon is definitely not in compliance there.

  7. Castorama overalls kit – the most goofy looking deal ever designed. I’d love to have seen the riders faces when that was displayed for the first time at the team meeting.

  8. @ Dan
    Given the mullets the guys had in the day I doubt they thought the Castorama kits were that bad. They had to have been in love with them at first site. They needed a kit to go with the mullet. It is the euro/cycling equivalent to the Ford Ranchero.

  9. The headtube extension on Freulers Panasonic was actually a Colnago (rebadged). In fact Ernesto Colnago designed the extension and implemented it on his larger framed steed’s and called it the “Freuler” frame. I think on 58cm and up. It supposedly made for a stiffer triangle.

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