Just when you think you can’t handle any more Earth-shattering news that shakes humanity to its core, now comes news that the 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix is in flux because it would otherwise be scheduled to occur on a day when France is going to the polls to vote for president. The details:
- The 2022 Ronde van Vlaanderen, following its normal scheduling protocol by nabbing the first Sunday in April, will happen on Sunday, April 3. So far, so good.
- That would put the Hell of the North on course for April 10, but as I said, that’s the day of the presidential election, and I guess there is a rule that you can’t have an event like this on election day.
- The organizers are supposedly looking to April 15, the following Friday, the 16th (Saturday, duh), or Monday the 18th as fallback options. Sunday the 17th is both Easter and Amstel Gold Race Day, which makes it off limits but then brings Monday around as a reasonable choice, being a national holiday in Belgium, where most of the fans come from.
- The women’s race will happen either the same day as the men, or the two could be split to happen Saturday (Ladies) and Monday (Men).
I have a few questions. The most obvious one is, why can’t they just run it on the 9th? Is this because the fucking Scheldeprijs happens in between the two monuments? Are we supposed to pretend that anybody cares about the Scheldeprijs besides a few sprinters and leadout trains, all of whom can just suck it up and get back on the bike Saturday because they aren’t winning Paris-Roubaix under any format short of eliminating all the cobbled secteurs? Reporting so far isn’t great — Sporza doesn’t go into French election law and L’Equipe’s cover story is about cyclists stopping during a race to urinate — so I am left to guess that the election maybe runs all weekend or at least has some logistical aspect that won’t jibe with the Queen of the Classics. OK, then how about Friday the 8th? Why am I not in charge of this shit?
My other question is why this is such a conflict. As we know, the start area is a big draw for a few hundred people, and there are pockets of fans along the way in the race’s early phase, but no more than what you would draw out with a truffle hunt or cheese tasting or whatever people do on the weekends in the Department du Nord-Pas de Calais. Then the race gets super interesting, which is when the roads are lined with drunken foreigners, none of whom have any stake in voting for anything more consequential than “best use of hops” at a beer tasting event. Finally, the race arrives in Roubaix, where it is overseen by the local dignitaries, descendants of the people who established the race largely to remind people that Roubaix and the surrounding area were still part of France. If that is the case, do they need or want to even vote? Maybe that’s all the more reason to vote. Whatever, the race starts at 8am and takes for bloody ever to reach Roubaix, more than enough time for people to pop by the ballot boxes — probably located next door at the high school — and do their civic duty.
Maybe the idea is that the race will influence the outcome of the election, if, say, one of the Madiot brothers were running for President or Secretary of Transportation or Minister of Shouting Into Race Radios. [France has a large and efficient public employment secteur.] Another possibility is that, sure, everyone going to the race is either Belgian or drunk or both, so who cares? But then you have a lot of French security personnel occupied by the election, and the long-threatened Belgian Invasion would be quite an unnerving event on such a day. I’m not saying the Belgians are invading, because they have better things to do, and half of the Nord Department speaks Flemish already. I’m just saying, this could be the reason for France’s decision to shut down the race. Overthinking things. Probably the fault of the DGSE and paranoid Directeur JJA (Henri Duflot would never have freaked out like this).
Anyway, this gets a bit weird for the riders. The cobbles are their own subdivision within the sport, and the excruciating, punchy efforts required over seven hours of racing is a specialty like none other. If the riders are forced to wait another week for the season to wrap up, it may force some of them to think harder about how they time their form. Right now, it’s becoming increasingly common for the Wouts and Mathieus and Kaspers and so on to show up at Strade Bianche looking feisty and strong, something they can carry over into Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico a week later and Milano-Sanremo the week after that. Such a buildup can work for Flanders, definitely, and we often start identifying Flanders favorites from these results. But can the Paris-Roubaix dudes hold that form all the way to mid-April? Some, sure, but they may have to hold back a bit early on. If you think you can win Strade Bianche, you probably aren’t a P-R threat. Well, except for Fabian Cancellara. And Mathieu van der Poel and Wout... OK, back to my original point: there may be some harder choices made when it comes to spring priorities as a result of this change.