A long time ago when I was about half the weight I am now, pre internet and multi channel TV and all the rest of our modern accoutrements, I stormed up the hills of South Wales on a bike put together with various jumbles of kit bought through writing off (then waiting for a long time) before something would eventually get delivered (before breakfast) by the local postie. In my mind as my skinny legs drove me upwards I was Robert Millar on my way to the polka dot king of the mountains jersey in the Tour de France. The Tour was about the only race I’d heard of apart from one – Paris Roubaix aka The Hell of the North a place that sounded a million miles away from my South Wales idyll. Strange pictures of broken men, faces covered in mud and dust was a world away from anything I could imagine riding with the riders looking more as though they’d done a shift down the pits. In my head the Alps looked no problem but the cobbles of Northern France was never going to be a place for me being a tough place for tough men. However like a compulsive voyeur, despite my interest in pro cycling fluctuating over the years, Paris-Roubaix is something that I can never take my eyes off and this weekend it will be no different.
Of course when I was younger I thought that its moniker was because of the tough terrain and cobbled roads but later on learnt that it was the description given after riders saw the devastation to the area after riding in the race shortly after World War 1. For me I think that the trophy is one of the best in sport (a cobblestone)
For detailed history and background to the race then The Inner Ring is your peerless guide, however my favourite thing to rewatch at this time of year is the film A Sunday in Hell which is the bike racing equivalent of the Rumble in the Jungle, an amazing documentary from the 1976 race as the titans of the time Eddie Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens and Francesco Moser gather to contest the race. It’s an amazing piece of cinematography and whether you like cycling or not makes for a fascinating documentary. One thing that always amazes and amuses me about pro racing is the access that journalists have to the protaganists and it was no different back in ’76. Watch the film and check out where the final interviews take place !
Sit back and enjoy a Sunday in Hell.