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How Good Was That? Putting the 2016 Paris-Roubaix in Context

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Everyone agreed this year's edition of Paris-Roubaix was something special. But how does it stack up against other historic editions?

Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

So your Jupiler hangover has subsided? The last scraps of your bag of bitterballen are buried in the deep freeze until Omloop rolls around again? No worries, as the man now known to all of Belgium as Mat "Fucking" Hayman would have it, we can still enjoy ourselves.

The tension of Sunday's race was what made it great. The lengthy wondering if the Cancellara/Sagan group would get back on terms. The way Ian Stannard lost the wheel after every single turn he took. The way the front group kept on knocking lumps out of each other despite being obviously dead on their feet and, of course, the way Ian Stannard dropped the shoulder on Hayman in Carrefour Les Arbes.

Other editions, however, have delivered greatness in different ways. A crushing victory, a triumph against the odds, a comeback or a confirmation of a talent all make for a race that lingers in the memory. So let's look back at some great editions of L'Enfer Du Nord and then you can all fight it out in the comments over your favourite.

NB I am presenting these in chronological order and they represent only my own favourites. I didn't even consult Cuddles the Cobble, who's contract forbids him from speaking to the press between the finish of Roubaix and the start of Omloop.

1949: Coppi Conspiracy

Fausto Coppi is a legend in the world of cycling. A man who electrified Italy with his ability to win on any terrain and then scandalised them with his ability to leave his wife for a glamorous mystery-woman, hauling their morality into the modern age. His brother, Serse Coppi, was a biblically ugly precursor of Juraj Sagan . He was a professional cyclist because of who he was.

There are two winners of the 1949 Paris- Roubaix. Andre Mahe, a Parisian, was the first to cross the line. Albeit, after climbing down the bleachers of the Roubaix velodrome having let himself in by the back door after a marshall sent his group of three the wrong way.

Five minutes later, the bunch sprint was led home by Coppi II whilst big brother sat in the pack. Upon learning of the unconventional manner of Mahe's victory, Fausto encouraged Serse to protest the result and gathered every Italian he could find to go and intimidate the jury into awarding his brother what would be his only big win. The result was a compromise. The 1949 race victory was shared in a move that satisfied precisely nobody except the bookmakers.

serse coppi

1972: Barry Hoban comes third!

Just kidding! 1972 also saw genial old man and wife collector Roger De Vlaeminck get his first of four victories in Roubaix.

The victory was made in the Arenberg Forest where De Vlaeminck got lucky by surviving a crash that put Merckx and several other favourites out of contention and was prompted by a sudden rainfall giving the cobbles a slick coating.

In the lead of a group of seventeen, The Gypsy simply rode until they weren't there anymore. Arriving on the velodrome with a two minute advantage over his chasers.

Roger De Vlaeminck L'equipe
Roger De Vlaeminck training in the Arenberg

1981;  A Race For Dickheads

Bernard Hinault is a wuss. There, I said it. For decades now, the Badger has railed against cobbles as having any place in a bike race. He hated the Tour of Flanders and famously described Roubaix in the manner above after his first ride. He wanted to win it, he claimed, to show he could and then never ride it again.

So now we fast forward to the final of the 1981 edition. It's a weird day, weather-wise, it's raining on and off and the cobbles are covered in a slimy layer of slippy grime. About the most stellar break in Roubaix history is headed for the finish, Hinault, resplendent in his World Champion's jersey, Roger De Vlaeminck on the tail end of his career but still Mister Paris-Roubaix, the man closing in on the title Francesco Moser who had won the previous three editions, Hennie Kuiper who would win in 1983, Marc Demayer and Guido Van Calster were the protagonists.

Hinault attacked with 8km to go, but was brought back by De Vlaeminck's DAF teammate Kuiper, shortly after he got hauled in, Hinault hit a dog in a corner and went down. With less than 10km to ride in a race they hated, most riders would just throw up their hands and sulk their way home. Le Blaireau on the other hand, got mad. His jaw jutted in the way it always did when he was about to unleash himself upon the world, he booted the offending poodle and set off in persuit and, when he catches the group, you can see a visible deflation in all of them. They know they've lost. Sure enough, Hinault launches his sprint on the bell to signify one lap of the velodrome remains and wins in his mud streaked rainbow jersey.

Bernard HInault Paris Roubaix John Pierce, Photosport International

The exact moment Hinault decides he wants to win Roubaix

1984: King Kelly

Paris-Roubaix is a race famed for bad weather, however infrequently it arrives, and the 1984 edition may have had the worst weather of any edition in history. In fact, both of Kelly's wins were won, appropriately for the son of an Irish farmer, in terrible mud that made the cobbles almost unrideable,

1984 saw the race won in an average speed of 36kph which must rank as one of the slowest speeds of the modern era. When you watch the youtube video of it, all the cobbled secteurs are only shown from the helicopter, as the TV company didn't want to risk their bikes over the morass.

The race itself wasn't such a great edition, but I picked this because it illustrates a rider perfectly at home in the conditions we all prize in a Paris- Roubaix. Again, on the video, Mons En Pevelle is taken at an absolute crawl.

1992: Gibus At Last

Gilbert Duclos Lassalle first rode Paris Roubaix in 1978, aged 24. He finally won it in 1992 aged 37. By the end of his 17 year career, he had ridden Roubaix 15 times with remarkable consistency. The parallels with Mat Hayman's affair with the cobbles are striking. This edition was also the high water mark of mountain bike cross over tech in the Hell of the North. Duclos Lasalle won on RoxShox forks and Johan Museeuw debuted a hideous full sus Bianchi that was forever known as "The woman's bike".

Over the course of this time, Duclos Lasalle fund himself in the shade of firstly, Moser, then Kelly, then a host of others but he was always there or there abouts. Finally, in 1992 he attacked some 30km from the line, escaped a group containing his teammate Greg Lemond (this was the last time a grand tour winner took on Roubaix until Bradley Wiggins in 2014), Jean-Claude Colotti and Philippe Casado and built a lead of 1:30 until the German Olaf Ludwig pounced. By the end of Carrefour Les Arbes, his lead was down to 30s but using his contacts amongst the motorcycle outriders he was able to get accurate and constant time checks to allow him to match the fluctuations in his opponents pace and hold him off for the win.

"I could quit racing now, but I won't." Gibus said afterwards. "This victory makes me want to win one more." And in 1993, he did. Maybe the similarities to Hayman have more to tell us...

1996: Mapei Go Ballistic

Be honest, at least part of the reason you follow cycling is a love of scandal. in 1994, three riders from Gewiss Ballan stormed away from the rest of the field to win 1-2-3 in Fleche Walloon, to the delight of team Doctor Michele Ferrari, and in 1996 a starry eyed optimist by the name of Georgio Squinzi was starting to see his dream of creating the world's best cycling team bear fruit. Now I don't know if Squinzi watched Fleche Walloon that year, but the performance of Johan Museeuw, Andrea Tafi and Gianluca Bortolami were almost a carbon copy with added Italian infighting.

The race had, for all practical purposes, been decided with 85km to go with the Mapei threesome and their terrible fluro shades escaping the rest of the leaders over the shorter and smoother sections of cobbles after the Arenberg forest, taking advantage of others having to chase back on and tiring,

The story of this race, however is really the office politics of the Mapei team being played out on live TV from about 40km out. First of all, Museeuw, all innocent like, asked his two colleagues who the leader of their team was. "You, oh great one!" they replied. Then came the debate over the placings. Tafi was expecting a child any day and wanted the money, Bortolini maintained that his victory in the World Cup two years previously gave him seniority and for a while all bets were off with all three riders playing hard ball and saying they would sprint for it.

Patrick Lefevere, then head DS at Mapei, has never been one to shy away from looking like a used car dealer or to defer big decisions to somebody else and with both of these personality traits in mind, he quickly used his early model car phone to ring Squinzi. Tempting as it may be to view the cement magnate as some sort of Bond Villain at this point, his response was rather weak. "Can't they just all link arms and share the victory?" he asked as, his white cat stalked off to seek a less scrupulous owner.

Through gritted teeth, Pat explained that no, there had to be a winner. Squinzi showing the mettle that made him a captain of industry declared that all three would reach the velodrome together and then it was Pat's problem. International calls costing what they did back then, as he turned back to explain to his three stars that the boss had spoken and they were no nearer a solution,  LeFevere must have wondered why he didn't just chuck his wallet out of the window instead.

In the event, the sequence was Museeuw, Bortolami then Tafi and a whole mess of trouble in the press all over Europe.

Mapei at the 1996 Paris Roubaix Yuzuru Sunada

Mapei at the 1996 Paris Roubaix

2002: Tommeke and the Lion

We all remember this one, right? Tom Boonen was third after trying to pace "Big" George Hincapie back up to a rampaging Johan Museeuw and seeing the American slide off into a ditch. You know what most people forget about this race though? That Museeuw won. In biblical weather. By over 3 minutes. Aged 36. In short sleeves.

The race itself was a belter. A dangerous break of thirteen had got clear of the peloton early on in terrible weather, including Tom Boonen. Dirk Demol was the director of the US Postal team that Boonen rode for at the time and was presented with a conundrum. Did he use up his only real help for Hincapie in trying to take a strong breakaway to the finish (his other help that day included David Klinger, famous for face tattoos, and Floyd Landis famous for testosterone) or have the young man not ride and wait for someone else to bring it back.

In the end, they stuck to their initial plan and when Museeuw took off with 50km to ride, Hincapie was among the followers. Suffering a hunger flat, he let Museeuw go but luckily had Tom Boonen up the road to help him chase back on. Boonen still maintains he could have followed Museeuw to the finish but in the process gained something just as valuable... the undying love of the Flemish cycling public.

2010: Ohlalalalalalalala! Balen We Have a Problem!

Watch it, go on. Just watch it.