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Roubaix - France - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - Mathew Hayman (Australia / Team Orica Greenedge) - Marcel Sieberg (Germany / Team Lotto Soudal) pictured during Paris - Roubaix 2016 World Tour Cycling rac e - photoMarketa Navratilova/Cor Vos © 2015

Lee’s Lowdown: The Roubaix Rumble!

Paris-Roubaix was such a terrific race that it would be impossible for Lee Rodgers to ignore the Northern battle. The Lowdown argues over the cobbled Royal family, but on the evidence of Sunday’s race, L’enfer du Nord is the Queen of the Classics – Long may she reign.

“World’s greatest bike race is on today, the 114th edition!” I wrote on Sunday morning just gone with reference of course to the mighty Paris-Roubaix, only to have a friend of mine, a guy who knows his racing, write back to say that, actually, the Ronde Van Vlaanderen is #1. He did concede that Roubaix “is also pretty damn good” but would not be budged from his opinion.

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Matt Hayman: Impressive

After Sunday’s quite incredible event I am even firmer in my belief that this grittiest of Monuments, a race altogether unremarkable except for its length and cobbled sections, truly is the Queen of the Classics. I’ll admit that the Ronde is often brilliant, but it’s Roubaix that demands the most extreme mental resilience from its participants. It’s Roubaix that sees a great many great riders simply unable to follow on perfectly flat, if bumpy roads, once the monsters of the race unleash their power. And it is Roubaix that terrifies so many to the extent that they beg their managers to be allowed to race elsewhere, marked by a collective fear as deep and as great as the love that riders like Cancellara, Boonen, Vanmarcke and Hayman profess for The Hell of The North.

Cor Vos Archives
Hayman helps teammate De Jong back in the 2002 Roubaix

The Ronde van Vlaanderen has its many bergs to batter the muscles and the will of the riders, but with Roubaix it’s more akin to 27 rounds of heavyweight bare knuckled boxing, with there being 27 sections of cobbles to traverse. Some rounds are longer than others but they all hurt, they all rattle the internal organs and they all remind you that you are racing as perhaps even more so against yourself as you are the others assembled around you.

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Tony Martin leads teammate Tom Boonen

You could see the impact all this has on the riders on Sunday as the four leaders began to kick ten shades of heck out of each other towards the end. They were each clearly exhausted, each as taut as a ship’s sail in a hurricane from so many hours of the most intense focus to ever be demanded by a race. All the hours, the weeks and the months of training were called upon as they summoned the strength from the chasm of their very souls to continue towards the velodrome. And yet it is even more than this that is required to be there at the end of Paris-Roubaix – each man has to call upon the very essence of their existence, that which was formed from the day they were born to those final, grimy, glorious moments of the race.

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The hero of Roubaix, Roger De Vlaeminck

This is why I love bicycle racing, love to do it and to watch it. It’s not just the individual’s natural talent and the power he or she has amassed through a dedication to training that defines them as a rider, it is also the amassed collection of their experiences, their personality and their determination not to give in – to say F&*^% You to the world, in effect – that allows them to suffer so very terribly in the pursuit of glory.

Cor Vos Archives
Anything can happen on those cobbles

At Paris-Roubaix you don’t just get opportunities to see this in glimpses – you can see those fleeting moments in every race, anywhere, if you look closely enough. The difference with The Hell of The North is that every single rider has to call upon the deepest resources from Kilometer Zero to the very last, if they don’t have to abandon. Some never dig deep enough, some just do not have the resources and are humbled to the point of humiliation, made to bow low before the Queen. Others, however, they summon the guts to answer the call. They write their stories on those cobbles, they engrave their names forever on the stones. They ride not just into history but out of it too, their performances echoing quite majestically the rides of those who came before them.

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Roubaix. A race for hard men

They also ride into their dreams, if they are tough enough to cross the line first.

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Hayman was out front for most of the day

One rider who did just that on Sunday was Matt Hayman. This was the Australian’s 15th Paris-Roubaix and despite all that experience some bookies still had him down as an 800-1 outside bet, so little was he fancied to take the win. And yet, remarkably, he did just that, thanks to a ride of such courage and passion, of such desire and yes, love for this race. His victory spoke to every racing fan for the very reasons I described above. Hayman showed that despite being the underdog, despite not being as naturally talented as others in the peloton, cycling and in particular Paris-Roubaix can, from time to time, throw up the story of a rider going so deep into himself that the impossible becomes possible. It was the most beautiful, life-affirming moment to see Hayman standing by the track still not believing he had won, despite having thrown up his arms as he crossed the line. He literally could not process what he had just achieved.

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Tommeke came so close to history

It’s still a mystery to me as to why Boonen felt the need to attack before the velodrome came but he did, that is now a fact and it must have sapped his power in the sprint. Hayman though was in the early break and deserved the rest the other three afforded him once they overtook the remnants of that escape.

Before the race Boonen was asked about his tactics for the race. His answer? “You don’t need a plan to win Paris-Roubaix. You need balls.”

Matt Hayman showed us not only why Paris-Roubaix is the greatest one day race in the world, he also did not only provide us with a ride that showed us the depth of the man’s willpower, he also showed us, and the rest of the race, that on this day it was he who had the biggest balls of all. . .

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For the second time the cobble goes to Australia

Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.

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