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A Hard Day to the Very End


Each year I try to find something new to say about what makes Paris-Roubaix so special, and this year my mind keeps wandering to the showers.

Parisroubaix_mediumYou know them. The concrete showers in the Roubaix velodrome. Every cycling mag has done a spread on them at some point. They look like something out of Shawshank Prison, except for the plain metal nameplate fastened to each one with a former winner of Paris-Roubaix honored in the plainest way possible. Gimondi, F., 1966. That's what memories of victory are like here. Cold, quiet and simple. Just like the race.

Paris-Roubaix is a holdover from another era, run over roads that Napoleon once marched his armies over, that supported infantry and tanks in two world wars. The landscape along the roadside is a mixture of peaceful villages and farmer's fields that creeps onto the parcours with no barrier, no change in elevation, just mud and wheat stalks suddenly giving way to stones. The pavé get the headlines, as well they should.


I suppose you could call this nostalgia, but if you think about the history of the parcours, that would be unfair. Nostalgia is the longing for the past, whereas Paris-Roubaix uses the old ways to celebrate the essence of cycling, past, present and future. When Alain Bernard and his crew went out looking for old stone pathways, they weren't seeking to preserve the Paris-Roubaix of their youth or their grandfathers' youth. They were seeking to keep the race hard as nails. If that resembles the old days, so be it.

Hence the showers. I mean, what other race would send today's riders off to a concrete cattle barn to clean up? Not the Race to the Riviera or the one around Lake Como. There are no concrete showers in Bellagio. Not even at my beloved Tour of Flanders, a race that celebrates itself with the pomp and circumstance of a national holiday (which it is). Only Paris-Roubaix brings seven brutal hours to conclusion by giving the winner a rock and sending the peloton off to the stone stalls to freshen up. Cycling is a hard sport, and on this day, more than any other, you can see why. Everywhere you look.

Top photo by Alex Livesey, Getty Images Sport

Showers image by Jered Gruber, used with permission