We spot the winner with ease. Watching a chain of events it’s possible to use hindsight and construct a narrative to explain how the race was won. But away from the podium there are many private battles. As the leaders charge though a cobbled section they kick up a dust cloud that leaves others choking and masks a lot of the action.
One way to measure the status of a race is to look at the attention given to the last placed finisher. The greater the race, the greater the triumph of the victor but also for those who finish. There is the lanterne rouge label in the Tour de France and in the Giro once had the maglia nera, a black jersey. But these are grand tours and Paris-Roubaix is special amongst the one day races because there are many stories from those who struggled to reach the finish.
First comes the last rider. Argos-Shimano’s Tom Stamsnijder reached the Roubaix velodrome on a flat back wheel but was 43.59 down on Cancellara and outside the 8% time cut applied. Saxo-Tinkoff’s neo pro Chris Juul-Jensen was the last official finisher.
If you turn the result sheet upside down then I would of won Paris Roubaix …..
— chris juul-jensen (@JensenJuul) April 8, 2013
As the tweet suggests, Juul-Jensen is often amusing to follow on Twitter. In a piece over on Rouleur magazine’s blog, Andy McGrath spoke to the Dane and the interview is a great read. Juul-Jensen was also last in the Scheldeprijs and the GP E3-Harelbeke but you probably didn’t notice.
Cannondale’s Ted King sums up the difficulty of the cobbles where each stone is a wall on an obstacle course. A lot of rider websites see tumbleweed blowing across your screen but his website is a green garden of racing, sport, travel and observations. His tale of the race explains how he gets on in a story that no TV camera picks up.
Photo galleries of crashes are often something to be avoided, sensationally exploiting the misfortune of others for the entertainment of some readers but L’Equipe handles the misfortune well in a series of photos. For all the brutality there’s the sheer rotten bad luck. Many watched Yoann Offredo’s acrobatic encounter with a road sign and wondered why it happened. He wanted to change bikes and was waiting at the back of the bunch for the right time to drop-off, looking for the FDJ team car to show. Sebastien Piquet, the voice of “Radio Tour” that communicates information to the race convoy takes up the story in an interview with RIDE Cycle Review.
There are those who were instead finished instead of finishers. Quitting is sometimes part of the plan, riders can be tasked with specific work early in a race and there’s no shame in leaving once the job is done. But this video from Dutch broadcaster NOS shows the view from the back. Many of the riders look more like they’ve done a shift in the defunct mines that lie below the cobbles of Le Nord rather than a bike race. But the rituals are the same, the slow acceptance as the rider stops and the way each sits in isolation in the broom wagon with a thousand metre stare.
There are also stories of the absent. One man missing was 2012 winner Tom Boonen, he would not even watch the race on TV. What did he do on the day? That’s his business but I’ve been wondering what he’ll do with the rest of the season now that the cobbled classics are over. An injury early in the year saw him play catch-up with his form and he was always off the pace, a late entry in the Three Days of De Panne showed him hunting for mileage. But what next? It’s been a while since he competed in bunch sprints and besides, OPQS have Mark Cavendish. The Belgian national championships are on a hilly course that might not suit him and the World Championship road race is even hillier.
For everyone else there are many races to look forward to but for this week a large share of the pro peloton is still getting Paris-Roubaix out of the legs, arms, neck, back and mind.
You can download the official roll call of finishers here.