Showers for Roubaix

Roubaix showers

The weather for Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix race is uncertain but if riders make it to the finish then a shower is guaranteed. Indeed Paris-Roubaix must be the only race where the washing facilities make up part of the legend.

The showers inside the velodrome are as much a part of the ritual as is the photo of the winner lifting the cobbled trophy in the air. Do other sports treat the showers or locker room with the same reverence?

Roubaix piscine
Roubaix's art museum

If you weren’t into cycling and from outside France, you’d probably never have heard of Roubaix. Art lovers might have heard of the gallery in a converted swimming pool. Is there something about preserving watery facilities?

But if the town has lavished money on the old swimming baths to make a modern public space, the velodrome in Roubaix is neglected, a less than lavish feature. The track is crumbling and as I wrote a couple of days ago a new track is being built. The showers, part of the same 1930s building, are no different. These are hard blocks of cement.

Indeed with the mud and dust from the finishes, the communal showers resemble a cow shed with milking stalls. The plumbing looks like it was installed by Heath Robinson or Rube Goldberg. You wonder if the water is even warm, it is but it helps to get there early.

Why are these showers so special?
It’s hard to pin one reason. Obviously the riders need a good wash, this race throws up dirt like no other. But riders these days have team buses with onboard showers. No, for me there are three more factors.

  • Cycling is an accessible sport, just as you can meet the riders before the start of the race, photographers are free to stroll around the showers. The images of shattered riders tell the tale of the day.
  • To reach the showers is itself an achievement, it means you have finished the hardest one day race of the year. Only 108 riders merited a shower last year, just 74 the year before.
  • Each cubicle bears a brass plaque of the past winner. This is more than a washroom. Instead is both a museum and Elysium, a resting place for heroes.
  • Many riders are aware of history and finishing Paris-Roubaix is an accomplishment greater than finishing many other races.
  • Also this is a race where I find a lot of luck is involved. Those who lost out find a moment of calm to replay the race, to reflect on what happened, what they could have done differently. Above all what would have happened if they hadn’t punctured, if they’d taken the other side of the cobbled road. Few other races have such a coulda, woulda, shoulda aspect and the shower is the moment for a rider to lament when the race slipped, sometimes literally, away from them.
Roubaix shower plaques
Note the brass plaques remembering each prior winner

A nameless Swiss journalist whose article is no longer online sums up the experience:

The showers are the only strategic place to get hold of a Paris-Roubaix rider. They all go there. And they dream of the place like a dog dreams of a bone. With time the communal showers have become a legend, as much as the cobbles. They are the wall of tears, the place where riders grimace, lament, compare injuries, describe their crashes… it’s the place where they wash dust, wounds and fatigue.

Finally, rain showers are forecast for the weekend. The weather has been wet during the week and the cobbles are muddy. More than ever these showers have their use.

18 thoughts on “Showers for Roubaix”

  1. “This is more than a washroom. Instead is both a museum and Elysium, a resting place for heroes.”

    I love that.
    Your build up articles are getting me excited about this race.

  2. Reminds me of the showers at school (’nuff said).

    Great piece – not sure I’d want photographers at my post-race shower.

    P.S. pedantically, it’s ‘free rein’, not ‘free reign’.

  3. I can’t wait to go there next week. Does anyone know if the track and showers are available for viewing during the week?

    Thank you for some great preview articles. The RvV one made for many discussions during the 6 hours on the Paterberg….

  4. Beautiful piece. We have one race on our local calendar that takes place in 100+ degree heat over some horribly potholed “roads”, that are more often dirt than asphalt. One of the highlights is that it’s the only race where you can take a shower at the school where we end. It’s probably only 1/20th as mythical as Roubaix and the showers after, but we like to pretend.

  5. Tom is the new spartacus kill them all. Not even bad luck can stop the new god of the roubaix velodrome. The record will be equalled

  6. For a blog that’s an aside to your day job, you have a true gift with putting words together on the fly. INRNG gives us “hungry” cycling fans much to appreciate, like a great book. Thanks!

    …and like a great book, my senses experience the many “pieces” of P-R, from the cobblestones
    to the aged showers…

    Weather update: 60% chance of rain, 48 degrees

    For the race called “The Hell of the North,” rain and mud make this gem’s victor a true
    God of the day! Can’t say I wouldn’t be happy if Thor rode into the velodrome first, though his Spring has been less than ideal, so far.

    Bring it on!!

  7. Eddy Planckaert once recalled the showers in Roubaix:
    “The cobbles are the hell, and the track is heaven. And well, the showers are inferno. It’s just the order of things isn’t logical. They’re tombs, from the coldest stone I ever felt. Sometimes the water was hot and then you were lucky. But when you won, you entered the showers as the last rider. Then there was only fog. You were standing there; in a sort of a mist, all by yourself, underneath a measly stream of ice-cold water.

  8. Expressed well by all, P-R is one of the few races every year which captures the true essence of our cycle racing imaginations.

    I sense that we all will not be disappointed, may the strongest man win.

  9. Another great post, thanks! We’re here in Kortrijk after a nice visit to the Ronde museum. Freddy Maertens was there, holding court and we had lunch in the brasserie. The house beer was excellent but the frites were nothing special. I’d rate the museum, though small, right up there with the Museo di Campionissimi in Novi Ligure or Fiorenzo Magni’s spectacular museum next to Madonna del Ghisallo. We’ve got umbrella’s AND rain jackets so nature can do her worst tomorrow, we’ll stay dry in the car until the action starts, if we have to.

  10. “Who has experience in the rain? Only two riders considered favorites this year have placed in the
    top 10 of rainy Roubaix editions. Old Man Hincapie is one, though he’s a dark horse more than a
    podium hopeful. The other? A precocious Tom Boonen who placed 3rd in 2002.”

    “It is perhaps ironic that Sean Kelly famously said “A Paris-Roubaix without rain is not a true
    Paris-Roubaix. Throw in a little snow as well, it’s not serious.” – podiumcafe, April 6 2012

    Hasn’t rained in 10 years! Now we’re talkin’.

    Counting down the hours like a kid on Christmas eve…

  11. Loved this article, having recently re-watched a Sunday in Hell I was amazed by all the journalists crammed round the riders as they took a shower but said to myself “bet that’s different these days” but amazingly it’s not. Great insight, and nice touch with the names of the winners on each cubicle.

  12. Read an interview with Tomekke during the past 12 months where he talked about his love-affair with P-R! He mentioned how important the showers are to him, sharing in the rituals that have been practiced by riders for over 100 years! It is that moment that he dissects his race, and plans tactics/strategy for the next year! The man just does not bow his head for P-R! Tom’s Moby Dick!

  13. Well as per cancellaras twitter post today –

    “Fabian cancellara ‏@f_cancellara
    Can you belive it i still havent seen the famous legend showers near the velodrome in Roubaix.”

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