Paris-Nice… The Race to the Sun…© A.S.O.
The image de Bradley Wiggins, the great track cycling champion turned contender for the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France, removing his rear wheel in the Arenberg trench so as to fit the replacement being handed him by then British champion Geraint Thomas, is a reminder that among its ranks modern cycling still counts men of passion and a never-say-die sense of duty. Though steeped in tradition, the Paris-Roubaix race continues to stand the test of time.
Each year, the lords of the roads, such as Boonen and Cancellara, pit themselves – in all humility, for they are only too well aware of the fragile nature of the cycling hierarchy in these oh-so-special places. With unfailing regularity, a winner emerges among the list of winners of the Queen of Races who failed to figure among the list of favourites drawn up at the off by experts and punters alike.
Last year, Belgian Johan Vansummeren, a northern giant standing 1.97 m tall, perpetuated the tradition set by compatriots such as Roger Rosiers, winner in 1971, and Dirk Demol, victorious in 1988. In 2001 Dutchman Servais Knaven, also broke through the ranks from the group of outsiders.
All par for the course in the northern classic – it takes nothing more than some canny team play, one of those incidents which can disrupt the most carefully planned strategies at any moment, the combination of circumstance and the luck of the day to which all meticulously trained professional cyclists can aspire, for a stranger – or rather a hitherto unrecognised champion – to have a shot at glory.
Vansummeren added a dash of emotion to the ceremony of the 109th edition by asking for the hand in marriage of his girlfriend Jasmine. Rather than a wedding ring, he presented her with a cobble – a fairytale gesture! At Roubaix, it seems the skilled worker always has a chance to knock the boss off the perch…