Paris-Roubaix and the harsh reality of one-day classics.


Photo from VeloNews. Their story here.

Classics’ season is upon us…this is a nostalgic and feel-good time, especially for us in the midwest. We get to watch professionals take a fattening helping of the shit weather we’ve been dealing with for almost 5 months. Cobbles, rain, long distances, rough western European settings, and crazy new equipment make for great sporting interest and drama.

Now, when I found out that former two-time World Cyclocross Champion Zdenik Stybar would be racing the on the cobbles of rural France, I was elated. Finally, somebody I could wholly pull for to win. Normally, I couldn’t be bothered to feign interest in the winner of these one-day races, because American racers feel about the same way I do about them, unfortunately.

Being a full-time cyclocrosser and mountain biker myself, I feel dramatically disenfranchised by USAC and the UCI, who make no bones about their preference toward the road. I ride road races and crits here and there, and I hold immense respect for those who excel at it. But outside of a cocaine-fueled run by Tom Boonen, I’m always going to pull for the dirt guys.

So, Zdenik was my guy. First the first time, in a long time, somebody who gets rad is racing a classic.

NBC sports picks up the chase at Sector 19, with about 100k remaining. Forest of Arambourg goes quickly by, amongst other sectors.

Fast forward to 30k left. Fabian has pulled through the gap from the peleton, to the front group. Then, a gap lay ahead that Stybar’s teammate, Stijn Vandenbergh broke off with Blanco’s Sep Vanmarcke. After a rest, Fabian pulled Stybar up to Vendenbergh and Vanmarke.

At about 16k to go, the four, now clear from the break group, all hammer onto Carrefour de l’Arbre, a five-star section of pave bleu. Not long after the 2nd corner of the sector, Vandenbergh is hauled to the cobbles, snagging a spectator (of course, Phil Liggett calls rider error, against Paul Sherwen’s logical insistance). So, Stybar, once sitting in prime position behind Fabian with a teammate in tow, is now on his own.

THIS is where the normal chivalry of the grand tours is ignored. There is no waiting in one-day races, unfortunately. Normally, if a break group lost a rider to a mechanical or a crash, they would wait, like Tyler Hamilton made Jan Ulrich do so famously in the 2003 Tour de France. Not so in the classics. Not so.

Not even 2k after Stijn’s fall, Stybar had the same issue: a slipping on a cobble or snagging a spectator caused him to shoot across the road, and dislodge his shoe from his pedal. The save he made was magnificent, but it couldn’t keep him in the race.

After pulling the break group for some time, the steam looks gone in Stybar, trying to pull back to Vanmarcke and Cancellara, to no avail.

Fabian Cancellara went on to surmount Sep Vanmarcke by inches in the Roubaix velodrome in clever fashion, making for an especially memorable running of the race.

These run-ins with spectators or unfair surfaces are disappointing. I’m sure Omega/Quick-step, Stybar, and Vandenbergh were crushed. I was pissed. But it’s these events that make the classics worth watching, even if your favorite riders don’t get a fair shake.

Here’s hoping that other ‘crossers or mountain bikers can make waves on the road in the future!


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