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. Well after being away for a few days and only returning last night, I hadn’t realised that my little piece had been put up!
    Thanks for the kind responses from everyone. I’ve always thought Theo’s words summed up everything about Paris-Roubaix along with what we try to do as cyclists.
    After watching Tommeke last night riding solo from so far out, whilst just blowing away the rest of the field, goes to prove this very point.
    It is THE most beautiful race in the world.

    @Mikael Liddy
    Mate, really bad news on the crash. As long as the bike survived without too much damage, things are okay. Bones heal.

    @Harminator
    Very cool champ! Fill us in on the rest of your trip.

  2. Great article, can’t really be said better than that,my VMH thinks that it proves we are all nuts so it must be good.
    @ Mikael, been there before, the older you are the longer to heal, but heal it will and you will be back in the land of the living once more.

  3. @Gildas

    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…

    Hi Gildas, not to be pedantic, but ‘y’ and ‘ij’ are not the same thing in Dutch…

  4. @brett
    That’s awesome. I love how sightings are starting to pour in from all over the interwebz. It’s like searching for a yeti.

  5. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is, by some margin, the most beautiful race in the world.

    On Sunday i was about 50 metres into the Arenberg section right on the barriers, and the speed of the front runners as they entered the section was staggering. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the single most impressive thing i’ve ever seen on two wheels.

    Hats off to Boonen for a stunning win!

  6. Just wanted to post to check out my new Flanders lion Keepers Tour icon – it’s the biz. Had a great time with all the guys, some solid riding, fraternizing with Museeuw and some pro’s (of the cycling kind) and just generally enjoying the North of France and Belgium. I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone in the community! Took some great shots outside Carrefour l’Arbre of Boonen nailing it which I will post later. Bretto and I are currently chilling in Brugge and guess what – it’s not a shit hole!

  7. @Cyclops

    @brett
    Sweet!

    @The Oracle

    @brett
    That’s awesome. I love how sightings are starting to pour in from all over the interwebz. It’s like searching for a yeti.

    “We are the velominati. Rolling resistence is futile. Pain is irrelevant. You will be assimilated. Harden the fuck up.”

  8. We hung at the Orchies beer tent for our first viewing. Turgot went through about 20 sec in front of Tomeke. He must have fought super hard to get back to second – lucky for him the cat & mouse game slowed the chase group. We could have stayed at Orchies – fun crowd, well catered for…

    Bur we joined a line of cars in the campervan and sped to Cysoing for sector 6? Tomeke was in full flight with a decent Sky chase about 45sec behind?

    Incredible day. Amstel Gold next…

  9. Damn, these photos are great, giving me a bit of an idea how thrilling it must be to see the PROs fly by at full gas.

  10. @Harminator

    I could be mistaken, but do the Sky helmets have no air vents? I was watching yesterday on an old-school CRT tv (so no HD) and it looked like they lacked vents, but that just seems weird?

  11. @mcsqueak
    Think they have little clip-on covers to block out the wind. For colder days. Been in the pros for a few years. Doubt they have a big future in Australia.

  12. @Marcus

    Ah! Thanks, didn’t know that. Can’t imagine it was cold enough yesterday to need those considering how many people lacked leg and arm warmers. But I was half the globe away, so what do I know?

  13. @brett

    My favourite photo from the trip…

    Alright, I will show my ignorance and ask who the lovely lady is?

  14. @King Clydesdale

    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.

    Pozzato, not sure. I will find out why with UCI. And King, you are good — I understand what you were saying. At the time though, my all natural and throbbing shoulder was a real pain. It was me.

  15. @mcsqueak
    @Marcus
    Clip-on covers were banned by the UCI after Cav used one when he won the Rainbow Jersey, helmets must be in one piece. Some of the Sky riders use helmets with vents some not probably depending on the weather and how aero they want to be on the day.

    1.3.033 It is forbidden to wear non-essential items of clothing or items designed to influence the perfor-
    mances of a rider such as reducing air resistance or modifying the body of the rider (compression,
    stretching, support).
    Items of clothing or equipment may be considered essential where weather conditions make them
    appropriate for the safety or the health of the rider. In this case, the nature and texture of the cloth-
    ing or equipment must be clearly and solely justified by the need to protect the rider from bad
    weather conditions. Discretion in this respect is left to the race commissaires.
    Equipment (helmets, shoes, jerseys, shorts, etc.) worn by the rider may not be adapted to serve any
    other purpose apart from that of clothing or safety by the addition or incorporation of mechanical or
    electronic systems which are not approved as technical innovations under article 1.3.004.

  16. @RedRanger

    @Marcus
    Yeah those are gonna be a big hit in Arizona come summer time.

    I had to ditch the knee warmers, arm warmers, cycling cap, and replace the full-fingered gloves with fingerless mitts it was so warm this past weekend. Hope it stays that way…

  17. @Mikael Liddy

    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.

    Thanx for posting this positive crash result concerning the LAZER. Trying to pick one up (GENESIS) as the successor helmet — the scion. And Johan Museeuw makes it look pretty good.

  18. @Marko

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

    YES! I knew I had seen her before. Man, it’s like you guys just walked into the Land of Oz or something with all these cameos and meetings and riding buddies you had. Still get blown away each day with the new revelations of with whom you hung out/had expresso/just bumped into/etc!

  19. @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.

  20. @brett
    Nice Brett – are you back in NZ at Penny Farthing…. I am on a brief visit from Portland – and I managed to lose a headset screw from the VMHs bike – oopsy! Not sure if NZ bike shops have those kind of things kicking around…

  21. @snoov
    Reminds me of the scene in The Flying Scotsman where the “UCI” starts to make up rules about the saddle and being able to buy equipment at the race start.

  22. @brett

    So I’m intrigued as to how this panned out Brett… did you recognise her (which is quite surprising, as it’s not like she’s in the news every day) or were you just chatting up every attractive woman and in the course of conversation she revealed her connection ?

    Or did she have a badge, saying ‘Future Mrs JVS’.

  23. @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…

  24. @brett

    My favourite photo from the trip…

    That poor women. First she has to kiss that idiot who she ended up marrying while he was covered in crap, then she has to have a photo taken with you. Will someone give her a medal, for Merckx’s sake

  25. @minion

    @brett

    My favourite photo from the trip…

    First she has to kiss that idiot who she ended up marrying while he was covered in crap,

    He didn’t have a shower before the wedding ???

    In that case I give it three months… especially now Brett is on the scene.

  26. @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…

    @minion

    @brett

    My favourite photo from the trip…

    That poor women. First she has to kiss that idiot who she ended up marrying while he was covered in crap, then she has to have a photo taken with you. Will someone give her a medal, for Merckx’s sake

    Grapevine has it that rather than being upset by Brett getting her name wrong, she’s somewhat starstruck.

    “Ninth, whatever?! I just met that bloke from Bad Santa!”

    (Mrs JVS’s mental image of the photo)

  27. @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.

  28. @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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. @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?)

  32. @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!

  33. @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.

  34. 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.

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