I started to think about what was harder of the two challenges; riding Paris-Roubaix or getting there to see it in person. Sarah and I set out from our sleepy little Sydney suburb at 6:30am Saturday morning headed for France. After utilizing 2 trains, 2 planes, 8 metros and a bus, not to mention a few km’s on foot, we arrived in Paris 29 hours later. Yep it’s a long way to go, but the interval spent wandering the bustling streets and malls of GuangZhou China was well worth it. So aside from feeling somewhat weary, I am happy to report the plan went like clockwork, we got a shower at the Ibis and we jumped on our bus tour with SportPulsions to head up to Compienge.
So yes, this is my first trip to Europe, I’m one of those Gen Xer’s who was always a little too busy trying to finish some blasted uni degree or building a career and …….well anyway let’s just say it’s not before time and our 20th anniversary seemed like a perfectly reasonable excuse to escape to Paris for two weeks.
I must say it is so good to be here. Ordering our first café with Pain Chocolat was sheer joy as I test drove my precious few French phrases and after just 10 hours in this country I already know I’ll be back again sooner than I bargained for. It is now 7:30pm and the sun is setting over the gorgeous French countryside that is speeding past my train window at well over 100kph. I love it!
So, to the race and I am still shaking my head in disbelief at just how brutal this thing really is. You watch the coverage on telly and you marvel at the sheer talent and determination of the riders, but nothing can prepare you for the dust and the rocks and the bumps and the crashes and punctures that are Paris-Roubaix. I saw countless riders today, no doubt the cream of the current crop from their respective countries DNFing, looking as broken and dirty as their battered bicycles. Our second viewing point was as the riders exit the Arenburg Forest and it was insane. Cars, riders, bikes just going hell for leather, doing whatever it takes to hold a wheel and summon yet another push to stick with the bunch. It was like the riders were exiting a war zone; a war against nature and each other. One team car came quite literally like a bat out of hell, misjudged the corner and came skidding to a halt, just a metre short of the crowded sideline.
One rider in particular made a huge impression on me. It was clear he was done, he had completed his job and would no longer be continuing in the race. You could see the crinkled white skin fresh on his elbows and knees from a recent crash. He was covered in brown dust from the earth and he looked tired, hungry and a little angry. The worst part was he now had to join the throng of fans departing from the stage as if he was just one of us and of course we all just looked at him in awe. Some even have the gall to ask for a photo. All I see in his eyes is the abject disappointment of failure. He gives his mitts to a young Italian man; it has made his day. Such a kind gesture considering the misery he feels inside. That’s the sign of a pro. Compare to another rider who comes out with some mechanical problem and he is so riled up. His emotions get the better of him and the mechanics are not impressed, but he gets on his way quickly enough. Not anything to worry about, but so much passion and emotion does this race conjure up.
And so to the race finish. If you are reading this I am sure you can recount the finish better than I, there were so many contenders so many possible winners, but one rose to the top and showed them all what a class act he is. Well done Terpstra, but there is something else about this race you may not have gathered from the TV coverage. This could really be just a provincial race on any given Sunday anywhere in the world. The small broken down velodrome in Roubaix that hasn’t had a lick of paint since Adam rode a tricycle is just perfect, romantic and deserving of such a race finish. Families and old men come to watch. You can almost sit and park where you want. It is relaxed…..sooooo relaxed. You can even get some hot chips from the one and only stand outside if you really want, or perhaps a beer or three for you and your companions. Yes no doubt it is a huge juggernaut of an event overlayed with the circus that is the World Pro Tour replete with helicopters and international broadcasters. I could only gasp at the sheer number of support cars, bikes, wheels, staff, officials, press officials, course marshalls, race directors, gendarmes, ambulances, tow trucks, this list could go on forever. But beneath it all, it’s just 250 guys going out and smashing each other and their bikes to bits until one man does something special. It’s a tough gig and I didn’t envy our heroes one bit, it’s a very tough gig, well OK, maybe I did dream just a little. I think you’d be a sad cyclist indeed if you weren’t just a little inspired by seeing what I saw today.
A big thankyou to the crew at SportPulsions; Didier, Julia and Christophe for your wonderful organization and hospitality today. We had a thoroughly unforgettable experience and would recommend you to anyone thinking of seeing the Paris-Roubaix bike race, and of course to my best friend Sarah, who came and saw the world with me over the last 48 hours and trusted me enough to follow me even when I wasn’t 100% sure if we’d make it. I love you my darling.
|OPQS taking control|
|Turbo Durbo had a tough day|
|Neutral support at the exit from the forest, carrying more wheels in hand|
|Spartacus still fighting|
|PASSION! Fix my bike NOW!|
|This is the rider that most struck a chord with me today|
|Job done Niki!|
|Degenkolb wins sprint for second, Cancellara third (bell lap shown)|