The One And Only

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Paris-Roubaix is this Sunday and it’s a race like no other. While most of the Flemish classics and semi-classics seem to be merging into one settled format looping around the Flemish Ardennes and VIP tents, Paris-Roubaix’s route barely changes these days.

How many times did they go up the Taaienberg? In recent weeks there have been so many cobbled classics in Belgium. Some have been great to watch but you’d be forgiven if some of the moments meld into one in your mind. Many races seem to be merging into one, as if they must all have a shared course based on the same geography of the Flemish Ardennes. Gent-Wevelgem doesn’t start in Gent any more and Flanders Classics boss Wouter Vandenhaute has mused aloud whether it needs to finish in Wevelgem. Now this is a mark of success, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it means geographical homogeneity, as if there’s a new and accepted norm to converge around, a telegenic formula. Yes some races retain their local features, for example the Three Days of De Panne has its moeren or marshes section where the peloton crosses the flat land exposed to the coastal wind but that still makes its way over the Kemmelberg and after all this mini-stage race has become yet another a one day race. Le Samyn features its own roads but also did its best to converge to the new norm with more cobbles than ever before.

Except Paris-Roubaix. There have been no smaller races crossing the Arenberg Forest in recent weeks and the only time the pros have visited the Carrefour de l’Arbre in recent weeks has been on quiet recon rides. The lack of a dress rehearsal matters means we’re not watching a repeat, the Arenberg forest is only once a year and that’s plenty.

The scarcity makes it valuable, you have to race, visit or tune in this Sunday or wait until next year. Roubaix, while synonymous in France with industrial decline and social problems, is a myth and a brand in cycling in a way that, say, Ronde isn’t and only in Japan is Kapelmuur a clothing brand. It all makes for an exceptional race this Sunday.

If you want more reading, have a browse of past pieces:

Fred April 7, 2018 at 12:06 pm

No fancy helmets, box section alloys sans tractor tyres, clips n straps, no hideous frame shapes with widgets to dampen this n that!! They didn’t half have it easy back then.

Larry T April 9, 2018 at 8:30 am

“When men were men and shorts were wool” as they say. I was reminded of this again during my annual pre-Paris Roubaix watching of “A Sunday in Hell”. 🙂
I agree that Flanders Classics’ greed seems to be diluting the value of The Ronde with what, SEVEN events during this period, all using a lot of the same roads and climbs?

Fred April 9, 2018 at 10:17 am

Glad you liked my little sarcasm Larry! I’m still on box sections, they still go round nicely and oh how cheap they are compared to carbon wheels. Re: A Sunday In Hell, William Fotheringham spent some time in the commentary box yesterday talking about this film/book, very interesting. A film I need to watch this week.

Kevin April 7, 2018 at 3:03 pm

Would agree entirely with your sentiment INRNG. Some of the climbs in the Ronde could be of ‘mythical’ status if they were raced just once a year.

In your penultimate sentence did you mean Ronse instead of Ronde as the thread was geographical brands? Could be Ronde too I suppose.

Looking forward to the race, looks open to me despite the QS recent dominance.

CA April 7, 2018 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for the reference to your past pieces on this!

Richard S April 7, 2018 at 3:48 pm

I agree entirely, Roubaix benefits from its exclusivity. Its interesting that of the major race organisers only Flanders Classics has gone down the overkill route. ASO and RCS seem to understand that they can’t have Ventoux/Alpe d’huez/Stelvio in every year, and the Angliru is used sparingly in the Vuelta as well.

CA April 7, 2018 at 9:47 pm

I agree, even as a relatively recent fan I’ve also noticed that the Flanders races are becoming mirror images of each the Ronde, albeit shorter.

Ronan April 7, 2018 at 5:54 pm

Is Tro Bro Leon similarly unique? Don’t know many other races that cross the Normandy ribonou.

Chris T April 8, 2018 at 9:44 am

Tro Bro Leon is in a league of it’s own. That’s more like a CX race with tarmac ‘sectors’. Pure madness, and no QS dominance. There’s a wide range of interesting names on the winners list too, including a number of victors who became pure sprinters.

Cascarinho April 8, 2018 at 9:47 am

Brittany ! Don’t make the mistake if you go there, or you’ll be hanged by the population!

Cascarinho April 8, 2018 at 9:48 am

And it’s ribinou…

The Inner Ring April 8, 2018 at 9:54 am

Yes, unique for the course and if not unique for the way it celebrates the local Breton environment it gets a part of its identity from the region.

gabriele April 7, 2018 at 7:06 pm

@inrng, your coverage of Roubaix with the various articles you wrote through the years is simply great, especially the social aspects and their evolution in recent years, besides the sporting facts. I love the headline photo above, too ^__^

The Inner Ring April 8, 2018 at 10:25 am

The race doesn’t wrap itself in the local flag but few other races reflect the territory and history in the same way.

Tom Cahill April 8, 2018 at 10:46 am

I don’t understand how any of the people watching the race, and Sean Kelly, could possibly enjoy and remember their experience without having a smartphone to take badly framed and out of focus photos.

Othersteve April 7, 2018 at 8:38 pm

An awesome race
truly ethno specific!

Matt Williamson April 7, 2018 at 11:03 pm

Inrng you have summed it up. Its simply awesome.

brent April 8, 2018 at 10:52 am

Good article. Its perhaps also in its own way unique compared to other coverage (although cycling tips can also put out some different articles).

I suspect some of what keeps this race unique rather is as much a part of the amount of work required to run the race plus the fact that it is so hard. It would be difficult to replicate the resources required to get access to all the roads and tracks. Very expensive I suspect to start a new race and as there are few top races in this area no real competition to take to the cobbles. Only the TDF has the resources and they don’t so a full course. I doubt the peloton could do many races this hard on the body (much like a marathon racer who might only do 2 a year).
The Belgium races I think are a victim (if you can use that term as the races are of course great) on the depth of modern sports making courses easier than they used to be. Hence the need to toughen them up. And the fact that Belgium geographically is a small place and there are only so many hills.
All races are getting tougher for this reason. Even the so “classics” have greatly changed. MSR got more hills. Roubaix got the cobbles etc. A race like La Flèche Wallonne over the years has got to easy and has become a race which practically starts at the last hill. Of course its an over simplication to say easy but many races have become like this and had to spice it up. If its bad for TV it may not last.
Its not necessarily a major bad thing as most sports use the same size field for every game (soccer, rugby etc).

Anonymous April 9, 2018 at 2:20 am

QS had one job,: keep on leading the attack and mark Sagan… hard to understand what NT was doing when Sagan attacked.
Anyway, great season overall

RQS April 9, 2018 at 8:16 am

I think Sagan caught them sleeping a little. Going at 50km they must have thought “we will bring him back”, without realising that they weren’t a cohesive collective.

Most of the other teams seemed to be marking QS, turning their attention away from Sagan. I think few would’ve credited Sagan as being able to stay out that long, not factoring that the breakaway might help him to the finish. Dillier and his fellow escapees can be credited with helping Sagan push out and keep his 1 minute time gap.

Jeppe April 9, 2018 at 9:28 am

QS was sleeping at that moment… The GvA-attack that leads up to, creates a small gap for the first 10-15 riders, with no QS-riders among. And then Sagan went on the move while GvA and WvA probably needed some air after their attempt. Perfectly timing, but also a long range effort!

Rick April 9, 2018 at 8:22 am

Making the same mistake as Sagan did last week when he let NT jump clear at the RVV?

poab April 9, 2018 at 10:30 am

“QS had one job,: keep on leading the attack and mark Sagan”
Surely that’s two jobs? 😉

Andrew April 9, 2018 at 12:27 pm

“Our chief weapon is surprise…surprise and fear… fear and surprise…our two weapons are fear and surprise…”

ZigaK April 9, 2018 at 4:20 pm

… and ruthless efficiency. Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency…

Andrew April 9, 2018 at 5:03 pm

(thumbs up emoji)

Pete April 12, 2018 at 2:27 am

Not just one, but two were ruthless last Sunday: Mr. Sagan, and the Grim Reaper.

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