In my eyes, one of the things that makes Paris-Roubaix such a beautiful, memorable, race is not simply the rough cobbles and the pounding they inflict on riders. Instead, it is the race's proclivity for creating memorable moments year in and year out. Other races - even other monuments - can fail in this regard. The Giro dell'Emilia has a truly memorable feature in its climb to the finish above San Luca, but that doesn't necessarily generate moments we will remember years down the road. Though the Giro di Lombardia is a monument in the sport, there is nothing truly memorable about Dan Martin's win last year.
Roubaix, though, is different. Its unique combination of pummeling cobbles and a velodrome finish make any edition one to remember. Solo victories are audacious, cagey, or both, and the velodrome elevates the tactics of a final sprint to a level we don't see in other races. This is why I can remember distinct moments from each each edition of the race I've watched, something I can't say of many other races on the calendar.
As this Sunday's Hell of the North winds its way from Compiegne to Roubaix the riders will cross twenty seven secteurs of cobbles. In that spirit, here are 27 memorable moments - in no particular order - from Roubaix that are permanently etched into my memory.
1. Bernard Hinault wins in the rain and mud, then swears he will never ride again. With a nickname of The Badger, how could Hinault not win this race?
2. Cancellara and Vanmarcke's track stand in the velodrome. 260 kilometers of racing over 55km of cobbles and the race ends in the most high-tension track sprint I've seen in ages.
3. Johan Museeuw crosses the line in 1996 with two teammates right behind him. In the 1990s, Mapei - now the Quickstep franchise - was the team to beat in the cobbled classics, and it was epitomized in the dry, dusty 1996 Paris-Roubaix. Museeuw attacked a ludacrious 86 kilometers from the line and was joined by teammates Andrea Tafi and Gianluca Bortolami. The three rode together to the line and crossed together in a choreographed finish that still seems impossible to conceive of.
4. George Hincapie's Steerer Tube and leaves him in a ditch on the side of the Mons-en-Pevele secteur watching the race he might have finally won ride away from him.
5. After being dropped earlier in the race, Mangus Backstedt wins a four-up sprint. It was a huge surprise from a rider who was consistently strong but had a mere five victories in his career. All the others were much smaller, including his two Swedish national titles.
6. Lief Hoste, Peter Van Petegem, and Vladimir Gusev ride under a train crossing and are later disqualified. Tom Boonen would officially finish second despite being the fifth rider across the line. Really, who could make this stuff up? I know that train would've stopped for the race in Belgium...
7. Steve Bauer loses the 1990 race by a hair.
8. Boonen launches an attack from 60km to go... and it works. Ridiculous.
9. Zdenek Stybar almost looks like he can hold onto Cancellara in 2013. How many more years will we have to wait till he wins? It can't be many now.
10. Fabian Cancellara can't even leave the saddle to sprint for the win in 2008. Boonen wins handily and Cancellara narrowly steals second from Allesandro
11. Johan Vansummeran can barely lift the cobbled trophy over his head on the podium after his memorable win in 2011, the day's effort clearly written into every muscle of his body. A close second is...
12. Slobber dripping from Vansummeran's dusty maws, hair crazy, as his new fiance looks at him adoringly. Roubaix is such an ugly race, but it's still beautiful. The picture summed it all up.
13. Gilbert Duclos Lasalle wins in 1992... and Olaf Ludwig's oh-so-close chase The 1992 edition of Roubaix was one of the first historical ones I was aware of, having been gifted a DVD with coverage of it a few years after I got into cycling. As I watched Lasalle jump away with 40 kilometers to race I thought it was an audacious move, but what I really remember is Olaf Ludwig, who would go on to finish second in the race only 34 seconds down after a long, long pursuit match over the stones.
14. ... And then Lasalle wins again again the next year at the age of 38. Some things only get better with age, and I suppose the Frenchman was one of them, beating the odds a second year in a row after a career of close calls.
15. Sebastian Turgot wins the sprint for second in 2012. Roubaix is a truly unique race and there are some riders who thrive here and nowhere else. See Backstedt, Vansummeren, and Turgot. Turgot's podium spot was a reminder of how strange this beast of a race is.
16. Bradley Wiggins attacks out of the lead group with less than twelve kilometers to race in the 2014 running of the race. Roubaix is a storied race that every rider respects, even those who, like Hinault, hate it. Wiggins loved it and it was the first time we had seen a Tour de France champion at the front of the race in almost two decades.
17. Hushovd crashes in the Carrefour de l'arbre' in the section's last, dusty, off-camber turn, losing any chance of getting back on Tom Boonen's wheel. That year would be the third of Boonen's victories in Roubaix.
18. Johan Vansummeren rides into the velodrome on a flat tire and still wins, holding off a charge by Fabian Cancellara.
19. Everyone but Boonen crashes in the Carrefour de l'arbre in 2009. Hushovd's crash was the nail in the coffin for a victory by anyone but Boonen, but the whole secteur was a crashfest, even on a dry day.
20. Johan Museeuw shatters his knee in the Arenberg trench in 1998, then almost loses his leg to an infection afterwards. It's a brutal race and my heart stopped when I saw Museeuw lie there after the crash - even though it was years later and I knew the outcome. Speaking of...
21. Museeuw crosses the line solo two years later. Talk about a Belgian hard man who won't take no for an answer.
22. A race motorbike takes out Lief Hoste in the Carrefour de l'arbre. Stuart O'Grady won, but it's not what I remember as much. Poor Hoste, the guy never got any luck.
23. A mechanical in the Arenberg Trench takes Tom Boonen out of the 2011 race. Standing there, calmly but disgusted, Boonen was the picture of fate turned sour that is Roubaix.
24. Bert de Backer rides himself into the ground late into the race for John Degenkolb in 2014. A surprising and standout performance in a race that isn't welcome to newcomers.
25. 2008 - the last year a podium was full of riders who had ridden Ambrosia Nemesis box section tubulars. Roubaix used to be not only the riders and the conditions but the equipment - antiquated, but reliable, equipment, ridden half with purpose and half out of suspicion of what changing might lead to.
26. Mapei goes 1-2-3 again... again, in 1999. After doing the same in 1998. The 90s were crazy.
27. Taylor Phinney leads the group through Arenberg in 2013. It's impossible to forget Phinney's prodigious 15th place finish in Hell in 2012, but it was easy to actually miss that result when watching the race. Instead, I remember the next year when he precociously led the peloton through the Arenberg trench, going so hard as to open up a gap for a few minutes. It wasn't the smartest move, but it was an bright point for American fans.
What are your most memorable moments from Roubaix?