June 30, 2022

“This Paris-Roubaix is ​​going to be a carnage”

This April 15, 2001, a man emerges alone from the Arenberg gap, as if out of Hell. In the photo, his body appears fossilized. Looking a little too fast, you might think he’s wearing a balaclava. In reality, the Belgian cyclist Wilfried Peeters wears a mud mask, the stigma of a Paris-Roubaix drowned by water. But, after an equally muddled 2002 edition – marked in particular by the plunge of the American George Hincapie in a ditch at Camphin-en-Pévèle – the rain did not come back to the race. So much so that “the hell of the North” has almost become a Sunday in the sun.

These nineteen years of “drought” should come to an end this weekend. Enough to satisfy the sadistic hope of a return to a “Roubaix des trenches” which has accompanied cycling enthusiasts – and even the organizer of the race – since the announcement of the shift from spring to autumn of the edition. 2021 of the “queen of the classics”, because of the health situation and a prefectural veto.

Read also Cycling: the Paris-Roubaix race postponed to October

The rain, Thierry Gouvenou even thought about it in August, during his vacation spent consulting the forecasts over several weeks. Still a little Saint Thomas, the race director comes forward: “It’s going to rain on Saturday for the women’s race and it will continue on Sunday but not continuously. “

“Viewers will love it, us less”

But before being sadistic, Thierry Gouvenou was a little masochist. In 2002, then a runner, he finished, wet but happy, in seventh place in the centenary edition. “We can not help it, people are marked by these runners with the mud mask, it makes a warrior”, he concedes, on this desire to see the runners pedaling in bad weather and that, moreover, nine hundred and three days after the last edition, organized in 2019.

This week, the 175 riders entered have therefore spoken a lot about the rain and less about the good weather. Cyril Lemoine the first. “When I saw that the forecasts were confirmed, I said to my roommate, Jérémy Lecroq: “It’s gonna be carnage on Sunday”, viewers will love it, us less. “

Read also: The female peloton makes its debut at the Paris-Roubaix

Despite his 38 years, the road captain of the B & B Hotels p / b KTM team advances in slippery and unknown ground. For any survival guide, he can revisit the cobblestone stage of the Tour de France 2014, run on July 9, between Ypres (Belgium) and Arenberg, in January weather. “The technique is to ride on the top of the pavement or squarely on the sides. Between the two, the grip is very poor and there is a greater risk of falling, observes from experience the one who had finished tenth of this stage. It is also necessary to arrive more slowly in the turns. On the Tour, it was mostly there. “

Cyril Lemoine is too young to have known the Dantesque editions of Paris-Roubaix, when the mud turned to molasses. In 1975, The team reported that the Frenchman Guy Santy and the Italians Simonetti and Rota, cycling on his shoulder in a paved area, had even left their shoes there. Should we expect to see this show of runners mired in ruts?

Fear of falling

Author of twenty books on the event, Pascal Sergent also knows his territory intimately and does not exclude it. “There is a somewhat anecdotal fact, but which, in reality, may play a role, is that, at the beginning of October, we collect beets in the region, notes the president of the Hauts-de-France regional cycling committee. There is a lot of activity on these cobblestone sectors, since they cross the fields. However, tractors with carts risk clogging the paving stones. “

On July 9, 2014, the riders of the Tour de France, like the Spaniard José Joaquin Rojas, face the cobblestones of the North during the 5th stage, in the rain and in the mud.

These new conditions require above all special qualities. In dry weather, the thirty cobbled sectors are going strong. “It is athletic and muscular power that will prevail, you have to know how to ride very quickly, develops François Doulcier, president of the Association des Amis de Paris-Roubaix. In wet weather, it will go much slower and it is more on the address that it is played. There, the riders who have an advantage are those who practice cyclo-cross. “

Belgian Wout Van Aert and Dutchman Mathieu van der Poel raise their fingers. The two lords of the undergrowth leave with “Two good steps ahead of the others”, advances Thierry Gouvenou. The triple and the quadruple cyclo-cross world champion are not those who dream of slipping under the duvet after opening the shutters of their hotel room. According to George Hincapie (out of his ditch to finish sixth in 2002), the first selection is made before breakfast. “A lot of guys wake up, see the weather and mentally they’ve finished their race”, Lance Armstrong’s former lieutenant explained for the review Roller, in 2018. Which amounts, he theorized, to running « against half the peloton instead of everyone ”.

Read also World cyclo-cross: van der Poel and van Aert, for a duel at the top

The rest promises to be brutal, with a constant battle to tackle the first sector, in Troisvilles (North), in a good position after 96 kilometers of racing. “After two or three sectors, it may already skim a lot”, warns Cyril Lemoine. The Frenchman imagines a very thin peloton approaching the famous Arenberg gap, made more slippery than in April by more lush vegetation.

To claim victory, you will have to be brave, agile, not too cautious and pass between falls without too much fear. Thierry Gouvenou evokes like a pact between the runner and himself: “He must get it into his head that he risk of getting hurt today. The fall is part of this race, but you should not be paralyzed for all that. “

Because, before winning on quirky cobblestones, then on an age-old velodrome, Paris-Roubaix wins elsewhere, as Marc Madiot confided to the World in April 2012. “I won twice [en 1985 et en 1991]. The first in the rain, in the mud, the second in the dry but in the dust. They are two different styles of racing but, in the end, it’s the same, it is played in the head. “