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Freeman Cebu Sports

Paris-Roubaix

ALLEZ - Jose Vicente Araneta -

With Paris-Roubaix, you either love it or hate it. Fence sitters not allowed. That’s why its nicknames are contradictory- “Queen of the Classics” and “Hell of the North”.

PR is a throwback race. Riders of today still use the same medieval cobbles ridden by Josef Fischer in 1986 when he won the inaugural race as well as Rik van Steenbergen, Fausto Coppi, Francesco Moser, Eddy Merckx and Sean Kelly. Even most of the wheels are aluminum, not the cutting edge carbon.

This year’s (or last night’s) PR will be a 260km test of man and machine and 53 of those K’s are on bone-jarring cobbles. To give you an idea how hard and dangerous the race is, no Tour de France hopeful is crazy enough to ride the race since Greg Lemond in the early 90’s.

The weather plays an important role in the race. Last year, Aussie Stuart O’Grady won in surprisingly hot conditions. If the forecast is true this year, then expect a classic race with rain, mud and slick cobbles in the mix. The riders’ faces will be caked in what riders call as “Belgian toothpaste”, mud made up of cow manure and soil. The favorites are still the same favorites in last week’s Tour of Flanders - Tom Boonen, Leif Hoste, Alessandro Ballan, George Hincapie and Spaniard Juan Antonio Flecha.

While there are cobbled races like Flanders, Het Volk and Ghent-Wewelgem, they can’t seem to measure up to PR. PR has not started in Paris since 1966 but in Compiegne, some 80 km north of the city. The reason for the “Hell” nickname was because the race was run right after WWI and course followed the front lines of the war and passed through the ruins, craters and destruction, hence, earning it the name.

The first 100km is run on paved roads with the 22 sectors (sections) of cobbles in the last 160km. The race route differs little year by year depending on the conditions of the sectors of cobbles. Sometimes, these old cobbles will have to give way to modernization and that’s why there is an organization tasked of preserving the cobble heritage and another organization to unearth those that are buried by the earth.

Interestingly, the last 750 meters of the race is run on a smooth, banked surface of the Roubaix velodrome. It is sometimes weird to see a muck covered rider riding around an aseptic velodrome but that’s what makes the race tick.

Most riders have a love-hate relationship with “Hell”. Hinault rode it once, won it and told the organizers he was never coming back. Le Badger said, “Paris-Roubaix est une connerie” translation - “Paris-Roubaix is bullshit”. Dutchman Theo de Rooy, who is now a director sportif for RABOBANK and who rode PR in 1985 was asked by John Tesh of CBS his thoughts after the race. de Rooy said,  “It’s a pile of shit, this race, it’s a whole pile of shit ... You’re working like an animal, you don’t have the time to piss and you wet your pants ... You’re riding in mud like this and you’re slipping and ... it’s a pile of shit, you must clean yourself otherwise you will go mad ... Then Tesh asks, “Will you ever ride it again?”, to which De Rooy responds, “Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!” to which Tesh and his crew and De Rooy burst out in laughter.

TOUR OF FLANDERS

When my cousins and me misbehaved when we were kids, my late Grandma would give each of us a painful pinch “below the belt”.

That’s what I would have done the same to my favorite rider to win the Tour of Flanders two Sundays ago, George Hincapie. True to his timid self, or maybe because of the strength of eventual winner Belgian Stijn Devolder, Hincapie could only place 5th. I wish I could put the blame on Hincapie alone but the other favorites like Alessandro Ballan and Fabio Cancellara were also as guilty. Of course, you could hardly blame Tom Boonen as he could not help close down his teammate, Devolder. Anyway, that’s two classics down in 2008 and there are still a lot to go.

DE ROOY

PLACE

RACE

TOM BOONEN

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