Ahead of Sunday’s iconic l’Enfer du Nord, the La Fuga office selects 5 favourite videos from Paris Roubaix across the years, showcasing the timeless appeal of the cobbles.
The beauty of Roubaix is in it’s inherent unpredictability. Despite the best efforts of technology, suspension, power meters and cobbles specialists, winning the race requires lady luck to be on your side and it hasn’t gotten any easier throughout the decades. This is still a race for the lucky, the brave, the hard, the mentally tough, and those who take their opportunities when they come, like Terpestra last year. Who will win this year? Who knows, but we’re sure to be in for one hell of a race!
1. The 1988 race contained a rare spectacle where an early morning breakaway group held on until the finish: 27 kilometres into the race a group of unknown riders broke away and the pack did nothing to chase them down throughout the race. It was on a section of cobblestones outside Roubaix that Thomas Wegmuller (SUI) and Dirk Demol (BEL) broke away from the lead group to try for the victory. As if the success of the breakaway wasn’t enough, Paris–Roubaix was about to deliver a cruel irony.
When the two entered Roubaix, Wegmuller ran over a plastic bag that flew out in front of him, which became jammed in his derailleur. Wegmuller was unable to change gears which was crucial for a sprint finish. He got assistance from his team car to remove the bag, but his gears still would not change. Knowing that a bicycle change would be suicidal to his chances, Wegmuller continued on his damaged bike; Demol continued to draft behind him. When it came down to the final sprint, Wegmuller could only watch as Demol sprinted past him to take the victory.
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2. 2006, that George Hincapie crash. In a chaotic finale, three riders were disqualified for a ‘race incident’ – a railway crossing, which later blocked Tom Boonen et al., had already turned to red lights as the two Discovery riders Hoste and Gusev, as well as Davitamon’s Van Petegem crossed it. To add insult to injury, Discovery’s George Hincapie received the worst fate of all: his steerer tube snapped with 45 kilometres to go, and the American ended up on the side of the road, unhurt but crying as he saw the lead group drive away.
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3. Another Hincapie focus film, but this time with fantastic footage from inside the US Postal team car as the race unfolds, Johan Bruyneel barking orders to his troops. A rare insight into the cogs turning behind the scenes. Although it was another disappointing result for George Hincapie at the 2001 Paris Roubaix, the atrocious weather, the mud, the cobbles, the punctures, the sheer brutality of the race, were all ingredients that made for a very exciting race. The adverse weather has never since truly reached the levels it did in 2001, the riders were barely visible through the mud and grime that covered them by the end of the race, while crashes were at no shortage with the slippery cobbles wreaking havoc.
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4. OK, so not classic footage of the race itself, but we love a good GCN video. If you want the low down on the cobbles and see the boys both on the sofa and in the saddle giving it their best to emulate the pros, then this one is for you.
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5. Of course we had to include ‘A sunday in Hell’. The film captures not just the events of the 1976 edition but the atmosphere of a professional race. It begins by introducing the contenders: Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck (the previous year’s winner), Freddy Maertens, and Francesco Moser, each with their supporting riders (the domestiques), who are charged with helping their team leader win. The film gives views of the team directors, protesters (the race is halted for a while), spectators, mechanics and riders. As the cobbled section is entered the selection begins. Riders puncture, crash, make the wrong move – the race plays out. By the finish in the velodrome in Roubaix only a few are in with a chance. The winner is a surprise, but that is part of the appeal. Post-race the exhausted riders, mired in dirt, give interviews in the velodrome’s showers. They look like men who have been to hell and back.