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Paris - Roubaix
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History

Written by Wicky (2005-03-01 00:00)
Translated by DZI (2006-01-31 15:46:00)

Paris – Roubaix has a rich history. Not surprising considering all those favourites who failed, or actually managed to get their win here through the years. In 1896 two local ‘patrons’ in the textile industry organised the first edition. The race was meant only as a warm-up for the, no longer existing, much bigger Paris – Bordeaux race then.




In the prelude years this race was ridden with pacemakers. Changing by the year, the cyclists were assisted with (often) tandemriders or motorcyclists. 1910 is the first edition without any pacemakers, Octave Lapize the first one winning without that aid. In total he would win Paris – Roubaix three (one with pacemakers) times. Slowly but surely the race gets the status of a big classic, illustrated by one of the many nicknames: “La Reine”, which explains the position of this race: Right in the middle, the “queen” of all classics.


Although the tight agricultural roads of northern France usually provided divisions in the peloton, the Côte de Doullens was the main executioner for the pack in the early years.
After the First World War the roads were badly damaged. Many roads were repaired with clinkers and cobble stones. As a result of this the roads, as we know them to be characteristic for Paris - Roubaix, changed into a mixture of cobble stone dirt roads and normal roads as they are today. Some of the roads stay in bad shape and in 1966 the character of the race is safeguarded by changing the parcours and bringing the start to Chantilly, about fifty kilometres closer to Roubaix. Jean Stablinski, local hero, suggested to the organisers that 58 km of brick roads should remain in the route, thus preserving the race and avoiding the same fate as Paris – Bordeaux. The infamous forest of Wallers – d’Arenberg was included that same year in this “Hell of the north” race. The organisers still aren’t satisfied fully with the route so in 1977 Compiègne is chosen as startingpoint for the race.


During the Second World War the race is held having another name. These three years the race is called “Trophée Duralumin”, Le Mans and Reims were the start- and finishplaces. In 1946 things were back to normal.


Paris – Roubaix has it all. Any winning rider will have to give it his all to win on the legendary Roubaix circuit. The race itself stands for heroism, adroit and hard labour. No winner will have a lucky win here, it has to be earned. Basically, this race only has big names on the leaderboard. Garin, Lapize, Pélissier, Leducq, Maes, Van Steenbergen, Coppi, Bobet, Van Looy, Gimondi, Merckx, De Vlaeminck, Moser, Raas, Kelly and Museeuw were all winners here, none of them a “small name” in the classics or otherwise. No rider would ever be a clear favorite in this race, even a rider like Merckx wasn’t invincible here! The greatest contender (in Merckx’s days) was another rider, Roger de Vlaeminck. These two battled it out, when the dust (how appropriate) settled, De Vlaeminck came out on top four times and is current record holder. Merckx only managed to win three times, like Octave Lapize, Gaston Rebry, Rik van Looy and Francesco Moser did.


Of course the difficult and long route through the north of France has some opponents because of the danger to the riders. The forest of Wallers is again part of Paris – Roubaix since repairs have been carried out, but other pieces of road still aren’t safe.. Injuries are easily sustained here, so some voices spoke out for safety and wanted to reduce the length of the cobbled dirt roads.
But like René Fallet said in 1979: “Celebrated climbers, your mountains will never disappear. Damned will be those that make the cobbled dirt roads disappear and thus dismissing the De Vlaemincks of this world!” It seems a lot of voices want to keep the Hell of the north the way it is.


Comments
Anne Hunt
Fri, April 29th 2011 - 21:41 CET

WOuld you please post the number of starters and finishers for each rach. Having a start list doesn't mean it's a complete list. And every race has a finish list... so where are those for Paris-Roubaix? Please post the list for the 1978 Race with Moser as the winner.

Thank you







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