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. In my best radio announcer voice; “Sunday, Sunday, Sunnddaayyyyy”.
    Very nicely written.

  2. Off to ride some of the course in a few minutes…….

    As the article says, it has to be the finest race of the year.

  3. Well written article il ciclista medio. It certainly evokes the delicious paradox that is P-R: such suffring and such beauty all in one.

    As an aside, I postponed my early morning ride today because of temps in the -5C range. And now I feel like a fucking pansy.

  4. Your article went straight to my heart. I named a muddy, wet, cold, stray puppy Theo (Tay-o) because of this very 15 second interview. (I found the poor mutt on a training ride, and he was with my wife and me for 13 years.) That broadcast was the first P-R I’d ever seen in action. I’d already been racing by 1985, but I’d only read about and looked at pictures of pro races (thanks to Winning Bicycle Racing Illustrated and the little newspaper named VeloNews). In my opinion, De Rooij’s interview was and still is the distilled, humorous, frustrated, and exhausted definition of P-R. Thanks for bringing back some great memories, @il cyclista medio.

  5. Chapeau! I think you’ve hit the nail on the head @il ciclista medio; the P-R is held in such reverence because, even for the Pro’s, it defines and embodies the pleasure that comes from pushing oneself way beyond one’s comfort zone. I don’t think any other single race is regarded with quite so much awe and, I believe, justifiably so. Time and again, through our two-wheeled purgatory, we find ourselves reborn – elated and purified. I fuckin’ love it.

    Now if some of those secteurs could include some >20% gradients…

  6. Love this, sitting here with a left collarbone that’s doing a reasonable impression of Faboo’s circa last Sunday having spent a day copping shit from nurses, the VMH & assorted family about why I would even consider getting back on the bike…why not?

    The worst day on the bike is still better than 75% of what other people would consider a good day.


  7. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    cheers, painkillers do wonders for one’s creativity.

    Surgeon appointment on Tuesday (suddenly resenting the Easter long weekend) & hopefully get it pinned before the end of the week.

  8. Il Ciclista Medio great read thank you for reminding us of what PR meant to us all when we first learned about it. We are tied to this sport by the common experience of doing something that takes us to a place where few other (maybe no other) activities go. PR is one of the ultimate vehicles for that experience and for those of us who never got to that level it has to be the one that if we could have the wish granted it would be to be fit and employed even as the lowest domestique to start PR (hopefully in the rain)!

    @Mikael Liddy
    Mikael, hope Tuesday goes well, heal fast.

  9. Nice one, il ciclista medio. Very nicely done.

    That might really be it – while other races can be long & the tempo can get to you, the pave of P-R might truly test the fortitude of even the PROs.

    There is nothing quite like racing. I’m new to it, but nothing else will test your strength, skills, and most importantly, commitment like having the clock going & others chase you. It’s exhilarating, scary, and yeah, even sometimes fun.

    Tons of work to finish today on a Saturday, but gotta get it done so I can get two hours of riding in, then watch as many old P-R videos as possible to prepare.

    And also, totally sucks for LeMan to have King Kelly do him in at the line.

    Oh wow, just watched one of the 1985 videos…I have one of those colorful Lotto jerseys! Didn’t know what vintage they were, but love the color.

  10. Big Man Mikael – get well soon, bud!

    I broke my clavicle when younger playing American football. I’d feel much cooler if I did it on the bike!

  11. Great article about a great race. I’m interested to hear how those on Keepers Tour compare their experiences of the Paris-Roubaix ride against the RVV route.

  12. Ahh, John Tesh. I can hear the cheesy synth music now like it was yesterday. When I’m truly suffering on the bike, it somes to me like Mother Mary in a Beatles song.

  13. Great stuff, mate.
    I’m pinching myself periodically to check its real that I’m here in France to watch PR live tomorrow.
    Was in Compiegne this morning. Spotted a group of lime green in the a cafe. It was the Liquigas pre ride espresso. The boys sat quietly sipping then paid and I asked for a photo as they left…they were very obliging..

    I wished Ted good luck (he was super nice) and said “are you scared”
    He replied instantly “Fuck no!”

  14. Just returned from ridinf the last 40km of the route. Blimey those cobbles are savage. I’ve no idea how the likes of Boonen and Faboo make it look so easy.

    Can’t wait for the race tomorrow. My money is on Boonen!

  15. @Harminator
    Dude, now I know what you look like. It shouldn’t be hard to find you amongst 200,000 others. We will have the V flag out so keep an eye open for us. Listen for the loud Dutch Monkey. Good work spotting Liquigas and our collective boy Ted King. Glad to hear he is riding. He has a day ahead of him. Oye.

  16. @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I am not Ted King.

    That guy ROCKS.

    Ok. Between you and the KT, I’m about to sell my computer. You guys just keep rubbing it in.

    Nipple Lube! I think I might just quit hanging around here, and take up knitting or some such nonsense.

  17. @scaler911

    @Jeff in PetroMetro

    I am not Ted King.

    That guy ROCKS.

    Ok. Between you and the KT, I’m about to sell my computer. You guys just keep rubbing it in.

    Nipple Lube! I think I might just quit hanging around here, and take up knitting or some such nonsense.

    Here’s the funny thing about the KT and me; when the KT was announced last year, I drooled over the whole business, but didn’t even waste my time asking the comptroller in the house. I just was sure she’d laugh, and I’d be on the couch for a night or two.
    Then the Cogal PDX rolled around, she met and got all go-go over Frank (he is rather charming and handsome) and G’rilla (same, but quieter). The boys and I were chatting about the KT and she says “why didn’t you ask to go”? “Sounds like a great time”. There was one or two spots left, but getting off work and the conflicting dates with a surgery prohibited me going. I will be there next year, yes I will.

  18. You can use “y” and “ij”, it’s the same thing. “Y” is the more the hand written version while “ij” is more the printed one. It’s one of the numerous “unexplainables” of Dutch…

  19. @Vin’cenza
    Cause that’s how Pippo is rolling this year. He bike his collar bone and was back racing in no time and racin well. That might need to be a new lexicon entry. Nice one KC.

  20. @King Clydesdale, @DrC would love to gents but I fear that may rule out any future sympathy. At least from those close to me, I know I’d always be able to rely on you lot but digital sympathy doesn’t help get two handed tasks done when you’re limited to one.

  21. Still bullshit. I am pressuring myself to attempt an 8 week out ride. Pippo…

  22. @RedRanger

    Cause that’s how Pippo is rolling this year. He bike his collar bone and was back racing in no time and racin well. That might need to be a new lexicon entry. Nice one KC.

    Pippo, really ?? I need to ignore much of the bull and ‘faking’ that ends up here at times. And time to focus on the bike, recovery, returning to training — and forgetting this nonsense for awhile.

  23. @Vin’cenza yeah I think he broke it in either Qatar or Oman & then was back racing just over week later do try to get some form for Spring, based on last week I’d suggest it worked.

    Did you have it operated on or let it set & heal naturally?

  24. @Mikael Liddy

    @Vin’cenza yeah I think he broke it in either Qatar or Oman & then was back racing just over week later do try to get some form for Spring, based on last week I’d suggest it worked.

    Did you have it operated on or let it set & heal naturally?

    No steel (this time). Bones are not horribly misaligned (10mm) with other fractured. Starting to firm up (2 weeks), so I must wait (at least 6 to 8 weeks more). Good luck with the VSP! Talk to you later Mikael

  25. @Vin’cenza Cheers, unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky. Once I get a pic of the x-ray I’ll post it but the two ends are overlapping by about 2 or 3 centimetres with a couple of loose fragments floating around.

    When I sit up & let it hang in the sling I can actually feel the end of the section anchored at my ribcage sticking up just under the skin, icky!

  26. @Vin’cenza

    Sorry to hear this Vincenza, hope you heal well and soon! All things pass, try not to let frustrations weight you down man.

  27. @RedRanger

    Cause that’s how Pippo is rolling this year. He bike his collar bone and was back racing in no time and racin well. That might need to be a new lexicon entry. Nice one KC.

    2012 UCI WorldTour Individual Ranking, Filippo POZZATO, FARNESE VINI SELLE ITALIA
    Mar 11 (0 Points), Mar 13 (0 Points), Mar 17 (0 Points), Mar 23 (0 Points), Mar 25 (0 Points), Apr 1 (0 Points), Apr 7 (0 Points)

  28. Sorry to strike a nerve there, Vin, Pozzato broke his collar bone earlier this year, told his doctor to f’ off and was racing 9 days later. Don’t think I’m condoning such foolishness, just attempting to use humor to lift the spirits. Everyone here’s a smart ass, and I’m just trying not to stick out as the kind, sympathetic one.

    Good luck with the recovery, everyone. Get plenty of milk, ice, and rest. And rejoice in the fact that the bone will regrow stronger in most cases.

    By the way, is it possible that since Pozzato rides for a Pro Conti team he isn’t ranked in the WorldTour? I mean he finished second in Flanders, so he shouldn’t have 0 points.

  29. Chapeau. This is so well said. One of the really attractive things about cycling is that we can all go out and ride these routes, and experience what the hard men do. I just can’t imagine what riding the cobbles would be like. That distance. Those conditions. The pack bearing in on you.


  30. Here’s a couple of shots from the aftermath of the tumble…

    That used to be one single collarbone at the top there (ignore the trees & chimney, the window was the best way to backlight it)

    Didn’t think I hit my head during the crash, my helmet would beg to differ, there’s a couple of cracks that run right from the shell through to the inside surface of the foam.

  31. @Mikael Liddy
    Holy Merckx! That looks pretty out of shape. Thankfully by the middle of the week it’ll all line up again. All the best Mikael.

  32. WOAH! That looks like a PRO & paid photo, Harminator! That’s awesome that those dudes didn’t just stand their stiff but really gave you a good photo to have. Good on them!

    And Ted King’s response – only makes me like the dude even more! Cussing to fans, & showing some bravado. Awesomeness!

    Mikael – ouch. Get well soon, mate!

  33. Well done- looking forward to a full report!

    @Mikel Liddy- tough fall… Hope you are better soon. How is the bike?

  34. @Mikael Liddy
    Ouch!!! The chimney’s a nice touch, though. I like your neighbor’s TV antenna. Haven’t seen one of those in a while.

    Enjoy the painkillers!

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