I Love Paris-Roubaix. My Evolution As A Cycling Fan

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Photo from tetedelacourse on Flickr.

April 6th 2013.

As with many people who follow cycling my love of the sport began with watching the Tour De France. I remember after watching the Tour for the first time I was hooked. The shear length of the race and the pain that the riders went through was the major thing that attracted me. Back then I couldn’t imagine following a flat one day race.

Being from Britain with it’s limited coverage of cycling in the regular press back then I only followed the sport once a year and usually via highlights. Eventually I got into the habit of buying an occasional copy of cycling weekly. Once I got it home, instead of reading the articles I would head to the results section to see how my favourite riders were performing. Because of the reasons I first got into cycling, and still being ignorant of the sport, I placed a higher importance on the longer races for forming some kind of ranking in my head of riders, believing that they would surely have more Kudos with any other cycling fan. So naturally the Giro and the Vuelta started interesting me.

But with only three races a year I had to look further a field and soon started following some lesser’ in my mind, races such as Paris-Nice, the Dauphine Libre and the Tour of Switzerland. I excused myself for this because these one week races would contain at least one major mountain stage.

However I still couldn’t see how I would be able to enjoy a one day  race. I enjoyed the day to day battles of the GC riders which lead to a war of attrition and the sadist side of me even enjoyed seeing the favourites crack, live on TV during a big climb thus enabling a new rider to take over his mantle. Watching the anguish and pain which the TV cameras brought to me close up was fascinating.

A few years of disillusionment with the sport due to positive doping results of many of my heroes followed.

When I was ready to come back I had caught up with the Internet age and was able to follow cycling more closely than I ever had. I was now watching the races I had only ever read about and I started looking into the history of the great riders. It was now time to admit something which I had really already known, one day classics were a big deal, and the big 5 weren’t called Monuments for nothing.

So due to the style of racing I enjoyed my first port of call were the Ardennes classics, three tough races in a week with tough climbs at the end or towards the end of the day, next was the Tour of Flanders. I still had reservations about Paris-Roubaix which is virtually flat, how could I enjoy this when all my favourite riders were climbers?

Perhaps it was Fabian Cancellara who persuaded me to watch Paris- Roubaix. His efforts driving the Peleton up the beginning of some of the mountains for his team in the 2010 Tour really impressed me. I knew he was a great time trialist, the best in the world, but with the commentators equating his efforts driving up the mountains with his classics skills I knew I would watch the next years Paris-Roubaix.

So I was ready to watch my first Paris-Roubaix.

To get ready I did my homework. I had a look at the race profile. It was of course virtually flat but showed plenty sections of cobbles, this I was told, would be where the race could be won or lost. Each section differed in distance and the state of the pave would be different in terms of upkeep. To get the best line through these sections you needed to start them near the front, so there would be a sprint every time some pave was coming up. The cyclists with a chance of winning and even those wanting to keep up with the head of the race would need to be great bike handlers, have a head for tactics and be incredibly tough over the 258km course.

The race itself had me hooked. The war of attrition which the grand tours forced happened here too. The peleton started at a very high tempo almost straight from the start. The whole atmosphere was something else too. Obviously there were the crowds of fans lining the route but my senses were being involved in watching a race in a way they never had been. The dust clouds which followed the riders added to the ambiance and the clattering of the bikes over the cobbles was amazing.The action between the riders was gripping. One of the two favourites Tom Boonen got a puncture near the start of the Ardenburg forest and due to the peculiarities of the course had to wait for ages for a team car to give him a new bike. That left his rival Fabian Cancellara out in front with a small group. Boonen was forced to try and chase back to the lead group. The way the race was unfolding reminded me of the way riders tried to claw back time on their rivals day to day in the stage races. Paris-Roubaix was similar to a grand tour but raced over a day. Finally at the end three riders ran into the open-air velodrome at Roubaix, a magnificent relic from the past. And of the three it was the unfancied Johan Vansummeren who got the victory. The day had thrown in a fairytale ending to cap everything off.

Now I am hooked.

I love Paris-Roubaix.

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