I am getting close to running out of things to say this week. [No, I do not need medical assistance.] I have spared you another cobbles power poll, find it impossible to pick a winner, and can't think of any way to describe the Paris-Roubaix parcours that isn't already the subject of 25 other articles or books. But I can't seem to shake a few thoughts that have been floating around my head all week, so I'd better write them down.
Has anyone ever won Paris-Roubaix on their first try? Obviously the answer is yes, since someone (a M. Josef Fischer of Germany) won the first one. But in modern times has this happened? I can't think of any of the bigger names doing this. Marc Demeyer, Roger de Vlaeminck and Tom Boonen were all 24 when they scored their first wins, but I'm pretty sure all of them had ridden it before. I imagine there are a handful of people who won in their first try, but not in recent times.
Where is the race in its arc these days? I have little basis for this, but I suspect that Paris-Roubaix is one of the most stable races on the planet, in several respects. First, its prominence ensures that ASO will make it a high priority, so it shouldn't worry about continuity or support. At least as importantly, however, is the fact that the route is nearly a museum now, thanks to Les Amis. Gone are the questions as to whether sectors need to be removed from the route, or whether ASO need to re-draw the route to add more of the infernal stones. A sector or two may undergo changes occasionally, but the debate over whether the Arenberg is safe... I think we're past that, permanently, as all the sectors of interest are lovingly maintained by the volunteers. This is maybe a bit more remarkable than it sounds, til you consider that the race nearly disappeared off the map (along with the cobbles) in the 1950s and really only came back to life in the 1960s, with the organizers forced to scramble madly to find first enough cobbles, then enough that could be ridden safely. Even in recent years ASO have tinkered with the route to add sections. Now I think it's fairly well set, apart from the inevitable minor adjustments.
What does this race mean to the riders? In A Journey Through Hell, several riders like Fausto Coppi and Bernard Hinault are quoted as saying that they felt they had to win Paris-Roubaix at least once, for their legacy. Nowadays riders are somewhat more specialized in their race programs, and Paris-Roubaix is a convenient event to cross off your list when you need your collarbone intact for things like the Ardennes, Giro, etc. This was ever more so the case when people worried whether the Arenberg should be ridden by humans on bikes at all... but now that the course is in proper condition, I wonder if a few more prominent riders will be tempted into taking a stab at the Queen of the Classics. Not the pure climbers, like Contador or Gesink, but think about some recent grand tour winners or other names of interest. Should Basso, a powerful chronoman, give it a shot? What about Cadel Evans? Alejandro Valverde? David Rebellin? Christian VandeVelde? Mick Rogers? Gustav Larsson? Just daydreaming here, but watching Greg LeMond and Sean Kelly chasing Marc Madiot was a reminder that Paris-Roubaix is not exclusively for the draft horses, or wasn't back when the great champions felt they needed a cobble to complete their trophy case.