to finale passed quickly, until finally
I’d seen the race for the last time that
day. I was in the midst of a giant party
fueled by untold thousands of gallons
of Belgium’s unfinest, Jupiler beer.
I took a step back from the party, a
step back to the already forgotten
stones. After all the drunkards, fans,
kids, and aficionados head for home,
these cobbled stretches will remain.
They’ll remain solidly in place as they
have for hundreds of years. They’ll lie
in wait, mostly forgotten until April of
the next year. These are not like the
roads of Flanders, which are used each
day, even now. The roads of Paris-
Roubaix are used only by farmers and
a few lost souls throughout the year—
they are a relic made holy by a sport
that clings to their cruelty.
I’ve always had mixed feelings about
Roubaix, switching between feelings
of admiration and loathing. On that
day though, I understood the magic. I
felt it. I can’t quite touch the moment
where the granite beneath my feet
went from oddly sized rocks laid willy-
nilly by seemingly drunken laborers
long ago to oddly sized rocks with a
gigantic dose of history, pain, success,
suffering, failure, greatness, and
legend. This race is so special, so hard,
because of each cobble. The cobbles
are more or less the same as they were
back in 1896, the first running of the
race. Everything but the suffering of
the riders and the cobbles themselves
has changed. The two most important
factors have remained constant.
You have to see it, feel it, experience
it, to really understand. Following the
race on TV, through pictures, through
words, it’s all a great start, but it’s just
that—a start. You really do retrace the
path of cycling legend on these small
field roads. It’s not just another race.
The queen of the classics stands apart,
far apart, on a lonely pedestal as the
most extreme test of them all.
Paris-Roubaix exists because of her
severity, her cruelty, because of the
spectacle that surrounds the carnage.
The people in the area the race calls