Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paris-Roubaix Tele-Blog

Eddy Merckx (winner 1968, '70, '73) rides the pavé in the 1977 Paris-Roubaix, won by the looming de Vlaeminck.

The legend of Paris-Roubaix is writ large upon the annals of professional road cycling. This hellish race is run over 260-odd kilometres of roads from Compiègne outside of Paris through the historic battlefields of Northern France to near the border of Belgium, and for over 50km it takes the peloton over old roads and farm tracks dating back to the Napoleonic Era. These pot-holed and decaying "roads" are erratically paved with the most brutal cobbles known to man; the size of loaves of bread and spaced at times inches apart, in foul weather they are slick with a vile covering of mud, or on fine days dangerously slippery from the dust that is thrown up by the passing race. Paris-Roubaix has been won by some of the biggest names in cycling over the years, but it's also a race that sometimes rewards the brave and tough adventurer who perhaps wouldn't often get a chance to win in the hillier races that predominate on the cycling calendar...

Roger De Vlaeminck will be forever known as "Monsieur Paris-Roubaix" for being the only four time winner (1972, '74, '75, '77). Here he rides through the Forest of Arenberg in the 1973 edition won, perversely, by Eddy Merckx.

So, thus inspired, here's my slightly random perspective of the 2011 Hell Of The North. The cycling-related interbongo is full of the most up to date crystal clear images and crisp, apposite commentaries of this incredible race, so I figured that I'd add a blurry and abstract point of view of it using photos taken of my telly as I watched late last Sunday night...

Firing up the laptop as Sky begins showing the live TV coverage of the "Queen of the Classics". As the race unfolded I was dicking around between my Facebook page, my virtual living room Vorb, Cyclingnews live coverage and Velominati, hoping my US friends would be watching and commenting too...

The race hits the pavé. Despite the summery conditions the cobbles are treacherous with the patina of dust stirred up by the riders and their motorised escorts.

A Skil-Shimano rider passes through the town of Maing.

The lead break hits the terrible Trouée d'Arenberg.

Flanders flags fly in France. Despite Paris-Roubaix being held entirely within Northern France it has been adopted by the Belgian fans to such an extent it's almost regarded as a Flandrian Classic. Just as a point of interest, the last French winner was Frédéric Guesdon in 1997!

I always chuckle when I see a sign advertising Dirk Hofman Motorhomes. The favourites arrive in the Trouée chasing down the break.

Poor Tom Boonen was left stranded for over two minutes by a mechanical when his chain got jammed. Amazingly, the Belgian race co-favourite almost made it back up to the chasing group before being taken down in a crash.

Hot favourite Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) drags the World Champion Thor Hushovd (Norway) along the dry, dusty cobbles. Hushovd wouldn't work with Cancellara as his Team had two men in the break, but he was clearly champing at the bit.

Cancellara didn't seem to be able to rid himself of Hushovd, who was able to cover everything thrown at him with ease.

Cancellara still towing Hushovd and also 2008 World Champion Allessandro Ballan (Italy), both of whom had perfectly justifiable cause to shirk work due to them both having teammates up the road in the break.

Belgium's Sepp Vanmarcke was another Garmin-Cervelo teammate to Hushovd in the chasing group that Cancellara had to contend with.

The French are huge fans of cycling.

The chasers hit another secteur of pavé with only 24km to go to catch the group about one minute ahead.

Hot pursuit.

Hushovd's main man in the break, Johan Van Summeren (Belgium), has gone it alone, attacking the leaders on the feared cobbled secteur of Mons-en-Pévèle.

But behind him things are hotting up - with a withering burst of power Cancellara rids himself of Hushovd, Ballan and everybody else, as he desperately tries to chase down the lead group and the lone leader on the road.

Spartacus (as Cancellara is known) was easily the strongest man in the race, but for the second Classic in a row another team's tactics ultimately thwarted him.

Van Summeren puts his head down.

In an amazing display of strength and power Cancellara reels in the last survivors of the break, but Van Summeren is surely safe now.

As JVS entered the velodrome in Roubaix his audience didn't realise he had a softening rear tyre! Although on subsequent viewings it is visibly squirming as he makes the sharp turn into the track...

The fabled Roubaix Velodrome.

Van Summeren has a lap and a half of the track to soak in the thunderous applause before crossing the line.

And he nears the line in the style of the great Champions, solo.

Johan Van Summeren's victory in the 2011 edition of the Queen of the Classics was a true multi-media event in Roadworks HQ.

Tired but happy, JVS crosses the line 19 seconds ahead of the storming Cancellara who catches the remnants of the break and outsprints the Dutchman Martin Tjallingii for second.

Usually regarded more as a top domestique, Van Summeren's performance and his previous 10th and 5th places in this gruelling race meant he was a great wild card for Garmin-Cervelo to play, and he proved himself a most worthy winner.

The race over, I sat there happily absorbing the results from what had been a thrilling edition of PR...

Somehow JVS hoisted his cobble trophy aloft.

The podium of the 2011 Paris-Roubaix. It was a great win by Van Summeren, but also a fantastic ride by the heavily marked Cancellara to ditch his wheelsucking companions and outsprint the remnants of the break for second place. Top race, would deffo watch again.

Finally, I'd like to send out props to my friend Kris Withington who built the bike that carried Van Summeren to his biggest win. Kris was head mechanic on my first international trip for BikeNZ, and you couldn't meet a better dude. His unselfish help and teaching was invaluable, and he's a great mate. He graduated from the BikeNZ program a few years ago to become a highly rated wrench for the team that is now known as Garmin-Cervelo and this year was given the prestigious but stressful job of working Car One at Paris-Roubaix, as well as helping build the team bikes including those of JVS and Thor Hushovd...

Spare bikes.

Race bikes.

Team leaders bikes.

Congratulations Grom on your first Paris-Roubaix win!!

I hope you enjoyed this slightly odd view of this most classic of Classics. Until next time, thanks for reading. Pedal on, Oli.

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