“The Hell of the North,” “The Queen of the Classics,” the most epic one day race in the world, scared me to the point that I almost regretted asking for a start. Riding 27 sectors totaling 51.5 km of cobblestone roads designed for tractors is like sitting on a jackhammer. After 60 km of course recon, my hands throbbed and my back ached.
Paris-Roubaix: 258 km (160 miles)
RadioShack’s young riders followed attacks. I made a short lived escape with two riders. The day’s main breakaway, however, including the Shack’s Oliviera, took 80 km to establish. All 200 riders fought to start the first cobble sector in front. A crash stopped me, and I caught up on the cobbles.
Another crash, another stop, another chase- this time with a group of riders. As long as I was with groups, I didn’t stress. We nearly rejoined the back of the peloton at the legendary Arenberg Forest, but hit more carnage traffic involving race favorite Tom Boonen. On the other side of the forest, Boonen came to the front of our small group. I stayed with him and experienced his power on the
A blinding cloud of dust surrounded the stampeding peloton. As soon as Boonen had pulled us back in contact with the group he went down in a heap of wreckage. A chilling moan arose from the left ditch. Once more and for good this time, the
peloton left a big group behind.
At an ordinary race we might have stopped, but this is Paris-Roubaix. My teammate Robbie McEwen who has been a pro since I was a baby said, “the lights went out 20 km from the finish, but this race is cycling history, and I very much wanted to finish.”
My group pounded cobbles for the last 50 km and swung into the velodrome for the obligatory victory lap with the crowd still cheering thirteen minutes after winner, Johan Van Summeren.
Gregory Rast, my teammate, finished 4th, and 6 of 8 RadioShack riders were among the 108 who completed the course. At the finish our director, Dirk Demol (1988 Paris Roubaix winner), said, ” We were passing all these riders. I kept thinking we must have missed you, but you were still in the race! Good job.”
Paris-Roubaix- there’s nothing like it.
This morning my body aches. But finishing Paris-Roubaix was worth the blisters, sores, and cramps. If you need me, I’ll be in bed.