When The Dust Settles

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.

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.

here-the-crap-is-my-rhythm, I’m-spewing-out-500-plus-watts-and-I’m-going-12-kph?

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.

23 thoughts on “When The Dust Settles”

  1. Thanks for this.

    I watched the race online with a crappy little laptop that froze with around 15 meters to go. I’ve seen the highlights, know the results and found a million web hits to recount the race, tailing Fabians’ heroics, lady luck (or lady un-lucky) having a hand in the race and all the tech geeking glimpses of special kit. But this has made it even more human, especially when the lay persons opinion of road racing is clouded by courts depositions recounting bags, bottle and vials.

    Road racing is hard. Those hard men of the classics will always be several leagues away from what my legs could ever do, but especially watching the last video, every weekend warrior knows the feelings of jelly legs, “the wall,” the drop from the chain gang and the lonesome mile crunching to try and finish.

    I think the public almost need to be made more aware of this human face of suffering and racing in more general broadcasting. Those that commute on a Brompton through a congested city in work trousers, missed breakfast and so speeding that little bit faster will know their own personal burn and could probably personally relate to the knocking feeling of “I want to complete, I must complete, but my bodies saying no.” Showing that pro’s burn too can never be a bad thing.

  2. Another great entry. I’ve been hunting Sunday tales from the rear, and it’s great to have such a comprehensive collection in one place.

    You’ve earlier hinted that your prose is not quite up to snuff, inrng. I beg to differ.

  3. Great little video, thanks for that. Oh the glamour! riders sat in the wagon alone in their thoughts. There’s the story of the winner and a thousand stories behind him and sometimes those stories are far more enlightening.

  4. Greek Euskatel rider Tamouridis tweeted after the race that entering the velodrome was the highlight of his career.. (he finished 59th)

    • He would be a good lead given his speed, experience, size and presence in the bunch. But he’s got a big status in the team and riding hard and taking big risks along the way is a lot to ask. Will he motivated to do this?

      • NOS reported that there is pressure on Boonen to ride the Tour as Cavendish’s lead out, but that Boonen is not inclined to do so, because he wants do to well in the fall Classics.

  5. It’s the first time I’ve actually watched the race. I’ve been watching cycling since 2008 and have gradually watched more and more every year (I’ve watched all 3 GTs for the last few years). But I’ve never started watching early enough to catch PR. I’ve seen LBL for the last 2 years, mainly because its the buzz off PR that usually tells me it’s time to start watching cycling again.

    It turned out that PR was, as I’d kind of expected, an awesome experience. I don’t know if it was the early start or the bright sun, but the whole race and experience reminded me of an old-school FA Cup Final. The whole atmosphere had an edge to it, like everyone knew it was the big one. Even Sean sounded excited. And the pace was incredible too, I really couldn’t believe how fast they went over the cobbles, time after time.

    Cancellara and Boonen have won 7 of the last 9 editions.

  6. Yet another great article. And the NOS video is really poignant. But really, anyone who *starts* this race, knowing what is to come, deserves massive credit.

  7. The NOS film is great, showing the humanity, humour and physical toll of cycle racing. Thanks again INRNG.
    A post on the technical geekery would be nice.

  8. Maybe there is some comfort at the beginning knowing your job is to hammer in front for 50km then wait for the bus when you finally declare “fucked” ( Juul-Jensen). Sitting in that bus for even an hour during the race is more time than I would want to spend collecting my thoughts.

  9. Great post, thanks for the NOS video. TV time goes to the front runners, but I love the stories from the back, i.e. Ted King’s story etc., reminiscent of Taylor Phonney’s ride/tweets from T-A this year. There are some powerful stories to be told there. Thank you for sharing!

  10. Could you do a piece on the junior riders on the podium? I would love to no a bit about them and their stories. I am sure I’m not the only one!

  11. Ok now I have just seen the British junior rider has won in Croatia. Please can you do a piece on him and the other Roubaix junior podiumers? You always seem to have the inside scoop…

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