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100th Paris-Roubaix - CDM
France, April 14, 2002
Paris-Roubaix: "Hell of the riders"
Former world champion Jean Stablinski says Paris-Roubaix's nickname - 'the Hell of the North' - should be recast as 'the Hell of the riders' to reflect who really suffers in Sunday's pavé-fest. Stablinski, who rode Paris-Roubaix eleven times, memorably told historian Pierre Chany that each section of pavé "constitutes a trench."
"Stab" was one of the people responsible for shaping the modern Paris-Roubaix. In 1968 "[race organiser] Jacques Goddet had asked Albert Bouvet to unearth pavé," he remembers. "I immediately thought of the Arenberg, and Goddet responded 'I am talking about pavé, not quagmires'."
Now 69, Stablinksi appreciates the trenches of the Arenberg pavé with a gourmet's relish.
"This section is very straight and very hard. You enter it on a descent, very fast, then arrive at a pinch. It's a little for from the finish so that not just one man can benefit from it. Paris-Roubaix is not won in Arenberg, but from there the group with the winners is selected."
Arenberg remains a 'secret garden' of Northern France because the area is cordoned off around a disused mine. As well as the pave, riders may have to contend with the wild boar that inhabit the area, a hazard that has caused the race to skip the Arenburg in previous tears.
As the for the unseasonably good weather, Stab says it's not an advantage: "You roll more quickly under the sun and the falls are only more painful," he said.
Why does Paris-Roubaix have such a hold over riders like Stablinksi and modern heroes like Franco Ballerini and Johan Museeuw? At the time of the event's centenary in 1996, former race director Jacques goddett summed it up:
"It's because the cyclist's most terrible adversary is the wind, the air, the atmosphere," he said. "The rider who is well-protected in a paceline or group expends much less energy than one who is leading the race. However, in Paris-Roubaix, with the paving stones, it is impossible to stick to a wheel. It is necessary to avoid the large holes and the great shocks." In Paris-Roubaix, there is nowhere to hide.
Stablinski's tips for this year's race? Andrea Tafi, Johan Museeuw, Peter Van Petegem American George Hincapie are the riders he sees as fitting the template for a Paris-Roubaix winner: "A big, strapping man who knows how to 'roul' in the wind because, even in fifth position, you take the gusts."
But he doesn't give much for French chances. "I think that the Belgians will still beat the French," he insists. "Why do the the Belgians wait until Monday? To make sure the French finish, of course…"
Cyclingnews' Live coverage of the 100th Paris-Roubaix will start at 11:00 local time (5:00am USA eastern time, 2:00am USA west, 7:00pm Australian east).
Paris-Roubaix by numbers
1cm - the smallest winning margin (Plankaert ahead of Bauer, 1990)