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5 Eds Rank & Chat: Ronde van Vlaanderen AND Paris-Roubaix

Boonen in 2014 Paris Roubaix Bryn Lennon, Getty

We’re skipping ahead in the racing calendar to talk about these two races. Here’s our rankings again so you can see where each of us Eds rank these two races.

ursula- Okay. I don’t have the heart to put these two magnificent races against each other. I am not actually evil and this thread is proof. Maybe. ;) They are easily our two favorite one day races and only the Tour rivals them in our rankings as all three are a cut above all the rest of the races in our rankings: not only are the top three races but they are the only three to get a score over 40 from all of us.

So I ask each of you to give me a one or two sentence summary of why you like each of these races so much. Go! (Note to self: asking the likes of these Eds to keep their comments short when speaking of these races is just plain delusional.)

Chris- First, for the record I would not have revoked your privileges if you wanted to pit them against each other. Just so you know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what a monument even is now. Ewoud (SuperTed) even went and asked Benjo Maso on Facebook about the subject, since it’s been in the air all week, and he replied with some history of monument designations coming and going. [My proficiency in Dutch is stuck at the “get the gist as long as it’s about cycling” level.] This shows that the nature of a monument is perception, not institution. Once people stop calling the thing a monument, it isn’t one anymore.

Three of the monuments are in one category and two in another. The three are LBL, Lombardia and MSR. It’s not unthinkable to imagine the Monument label being rescinded from them. I doubt it will happen, although Lombardia being in the fall and constantly changing makes me worry a bit. LBL will be great again if Valverde ever retires. MSR is too unique and set in its historical ways for it to fade away. But you never know.

Flanders and Roubaix cannot stop being considered monuments, as long as these places are inhabited by humans on bikes. Flanders is THE representative event of arguably the sport’s most important subset of fans. Like Red Sox/Yankees, Barcelona, Man Utd or other franchises tied to a sport’s cornernerstone, you can’t untether it. The experience of Flanders is too much of what people enjoy about the sport for it to fade. And it won’t be bumped by one of its imitators either.

Roubaix is different, it belongs to the world rather than one place. The action itself is what elevates the race; it’s a challenge like nothing else in the sport. Every rough-surface race is a pale imitator of Paris-Roubaix: Tro Bro Leon, all the Flemish races, Strade Bianche, etc. Everybody perceives Paris-Roubaix as the ultimate challenge in this regard, and until we start building even shittier roads it’s not possible for this race to lose its crown. Add in 100 years, the world war stuff, the proximity to Belgium, etc., and you have an unbeatable formula. Except for the lack of porta-johns at the Forest of Arenberg. That’s a disgrace… but fixable.

Conor- There is a slight difference between the two that I’d like to point out: there’s nothing that makes De Ronde so much better than the other comparable races other than perception — it is the greatest because we and everyone else say it is. Paris-Roubaix, however...there is nothing like it. Which I suppose gives it a little boost. But these races are great in because they are not preparations — everyone in them is thinking no further ahead than the finish line, or even the next secteur written on their stem. These races are the greatest, they are the pinnacle, so they have the pinnacle of racing attached.

Chris- I’LL CUT YOU! No, wait, I promised to be rational...

I’m not disagreeing on placing Paris-Roubaix first among equals, if you must. But I would still say Flanders goes beyond perception. It is the representative race of the spring cobbles season, and one of those has to be someone’s biggest target (along with the outllier P-R). If you removed perception, could it be replaced by something else? E3 Prijs maybe, but not really. Also there’s perception and then there’s the utterly determined perception of an entire subregion of Europe, which isn’t as fleeting as the love of, say, Lombardia or Zuri-Metzgete or whatever. The Big Three countries will always fall back on their grand tours which places their monuments on less certain footing, but for Belgians you’ll have to pry the Ronde van Vlaanderen from their cold, dead hands.

ursula- Quietly picks up a sharpened box cutter Interesting. As someone who’s never been to Belgium and thus I’m fairly removed from how that country ticks (other than general news articles) it seems to me from this distance that de Ronde is a bike race that is also a Flemish transcendent event. That’ its part of the soil and very identity to the Flemish speaking people. Maybe like how the World Series used to be in America in some mythical 50’s-60’s era but even more so. Is that right? Or somewhat right? More than any other race its meaningful to the area its staged in?

Separately does the Walloon part participate much?

Chris- Yeah, I think your characterization of Flemish attachment is correct. Now, you could still just call that perception, in its highest form, but I’d argue that the irreducible minimum of de Ronde also includes Flemish-style racing, which is a subset of the sport that will always require a monument. Beyond the millions of shouting fans is a hyper-punchy rhythm to the racing there that would be hard to replicate anywhere else -- the stones, the stabby hills, the exposed areas and the spring weather all combine into a race where every racer is under constant threat. It’s like the old Samurai (sauce) adage of living with death in your heart. Once you accept that, you can unleash a heedless aggression and do stuff like hanging 20 seconds off the front of the race for an hour. It’s a style that spawns a whole mini-season, which in turn cries out for a representative mega-event. You could maybe replicate it somewhere else? Or maybe not.

Wallonia has given in to football madness. Also I wonder if the Francophone population feels more connected to the Tour? We might need to cc’ Bram or Caro soon.

Conor- Sure, I’m not arguing any of that at all. All I am saying is, the uniqueness of Paris-Roubaix in the calendar we currently have gives it a uniqueness that I think propels it a tiny bit forward. Not to diminish Flanders at all, which has been brought to its current position by perception, but of course stands on its own cobbled feet.

Chris- OK then! We can be friends again.

Boonen and Cancellara approach

Andrew- Let me tell you a little story. The other four Eds gather around in a circle.

In your mid-twenties, you travel a lot for work. You meet a waitress, and begin a torrid love affair. It ends, the ways these things do, but not before one evening of carelessness leaves you with a son, Oscar. He’s grown up now, but keeping him in your life has been difficult, he doesn’t really fit in with the rest of your family, and he’s so distant. He’s beautiful, though, dark and exotic, and so popular. You’re proud of him.

Not long after things end with Alessandra, you meet the woman who is now your wife. You settle down, and very soon you have twins, Eddy and Roger. They’re the light of your life, strong, sensible, honest men and tireless workers. Strangers can’t tell them apart, but it is obvious to you – physically, Roger is broader, squatter, and he’s also the most stubborn young man you know. Sure, Eddy’s like him, but he’s a bit more flexible, and bit more philosophical. A couple of years later you have a daughter, Alexandra. She isn’t like her brothers, and there were times she drove you mad. She wears black nail polish and goes to poetry slams. Still, she’s graceful, elegant, sort of Audrey Hepburn, and she’s so smart and thoughtful.

So there you are, a family of five, with Oscar popping in some times. You’re a complete family, but somehow things aren’t quite right. You know it is a mistake, and everyone worries, but you and your wife decide to have another child. Roger and Eddy are leaving home around the time that little Vincenza is born. Going back to dirty nappies and night feeds is tough but you have a wonderful au pair (Emilia) to help out. You know what? It sort of helps. You and your wife are closer for a while, but it’ll never be the same as the days with three little ones running about. Vincenza doesn’t quite fit in, though she idolises Vinnie and is a lot like her – often, the nail polish is chipped and it seems like her hairstyle changes every week, but if anything she’s smarter than her sister, and you think she’ll be brilliant. One day.

You might not realise it, but those five kids are a lot like the monuments (What? No, really, they are. Read it again). As an only child without kids of my own, I’m totally comfortable with an analogy in which we compare how much we love our children. I can see why that might be harder for some of you but I’m okay with that.

I thought of this because I tried to imagine explaining to a non-cycling fan why we care about the difference between Flanders and Roubaix – what the difference even is. They’re so close in the calendar, and the list of favourites is so similar, that they’ll always be twins – but the differences are obvious and significant if you get to know them.

That’s why I was pleased when my ranking came out with Roubaix and Flanders together – because that’s where they belong. Always. Different but equal. Roubaix has the unending toughness, the unchanging route, the links to the war – the Ronde has the hills, the essence of Flanders, the glorious moments of excitement. Sure, they’re both really long races over cobbles in spring, but they’re more than that.

So no, Skip, I can’t pick between them, and I love the fact I don’t have to.

On the other hand, to stretch my analogy to breaking point, in this scenario, Chris is the Dad who always talks about how incredible Eddy is, which means I spend so much time defending Roger that I feel like I don’t tell Eddy how much I love him, too. Chris makes me so mad sometimes.

By the way, if Chris’ real kids are reading, this only applies to cycling. He loves you all equally. Except you – you’re his favourite.

Jens, suspiciously quiet and brief- I subscribe to this version, or a version of this version.

Flanders is unique because of what history has made it into, Roubaix is actually unique based on the characteristics of the race itself.

Move them and other races to a universe where no one knows them, Roubaix would still be unique while Flanders is roughly the same as a lot of other races.

By the way Skip, can we get a version of the spreadsheet with all the sub-category numbers for all of us? I don’t have yours and Andrew’s. I want to be numbers and factually based when I call you an idiot in future discussions.

Chris- I love my kids equally, but I definitely have a favorite chicken.


Cycling: 94th Tour of Flanders 2010 Arrival / Fabian CANCELLARA (Sui) Celebration Joie Vreugde / Brugge - Ninove (262,3 Km)/ Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour de Flandre / (c) Tim De Waele (Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)
Cycling: 94th Tour of Flanders 2010 Arrival / Fabian CANCELLARA (Sui) Celebration Joie Vreugde / Brugge - Ninove (262,3 Km)/ Ronde van Vlaanderen / Tour de Flandre / (c) Tim De Waele (Photo by Tim de Waele/Corbis via Getty Images)
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