Paris – Roubaix

This Sunday brings the 2013 edition of the cycling spring classic Paris – Roubaix. I can remember being drawn into the Tour De France on World of Sport in the late seventies, where it quickly became apparent that it was a technical, complex and interesting sport to understand (the sort of challenge I seemed to love as a child. I can remember trying to understand how the scoring in darts worked before I learnt subtraction at school, and spent an afternoon mystified at how they scored points, but their score went down not up!). After a year or two of getting to grips with some of the initial mysteries and wonder of Le Tour, the next thing introduced by World of Sport was Paris Roubaix.

Take the wonders of simple road racing, and then add in several lengthy sections of cobbled farm and forest tracks in rural France. All the pain and hard work of normal cycle racing meets The Hell of The North, these ancient broken paths that sought to destroy bikes and riders proceeding at any sort of pace along them. Dust clouds choking and blinding the riders in good weather, slick cobbles becoming ice-like and dangerous in bad. And then in a final ironic twist, a finish on the ultra-smooth wood panels of Roubaix’s velodrome, a return to the track roots of many of the riders, often for a mere victory lap, sometimes for a proper track race. These are the ingredients that make Paris Roubaix a true classic I think I was sold the moment one of the camera bikes crashed during the race, the biker caught out by the cobbles too.

This year’s race can be caught live on Eurosport this Sunday, but to get a real feel for it, enjoy this coverage from 1988 by CBS, a beautiful package that really sells the uniqueness of the race.