Roubaix for dark horses
|Sorry Michael Ball, the Carrefour de l'Arbre is 'True Rock Racing'.
Maybe it comes from never having the talent to ever be a favorite myself way-back-when. Or maybe it's that good 'ol American 'root-for-the-underdog' tendency. Whatever. I just know that I love unexpected exploits like the one Johan Van Summeren pulled off on the Carrefour de l'Arbre last Sunday.
Johan wasn't the only unheralded rider to make a mark on this year's Paris Roubaix. Martin Tjallingi of Rabobank was also in the zone, always pushing the pace, opening up gaps on the pave seemingly at will, and in the end still having enough juice to earn a podium spot in a sprint. Martin who? That's who.
Often in Roubaix, we see the favorites give the escapers just a little too much leash. This year's race was similar in many ways to three races in the eighties when 'unexpected' Belgian riders stole the show.
Dirk DeMol didn't have a major pro victory reference to speak of. He did, however, have a pretty darn good pave reference. In 1979, he'd finished a close 2nd in the Amateur Paris-Roubaix, in a 2-up sprint behind ACBB's Stephen Roche. The boy from Harelbeke had no fear of the stones of hell.
That day was a dry one, just like this year. And like this year, the favorites gave the escape a little too much leash, for a little too long. Favorites Kelly, Vanderaerden and Fignon marked each other out. In the end, DeMol and Wegmuller survived the break to hold them all off, DeMol outsprinting his long break companion on a non-tradional road finish the race used from '86-'88. Laurent Fignon was the best of the rest, much like was Cancellara this year. It was as close as the dual Tour de France winner would come to winning Paris Roubaix.
Ah, those were the good old days when potential Tour winners would try to win the Queen of Classics.
The year before, in 1987, a super tough cold wet race had seen a trio of Flemish fugitives almost pull the same trick off. Unknown Patrick Versluys was away an alone at Hem with only 5 miles to go. Hitachi teammates Rudy Dhaenens and Phillipe VandenBrand brought him back, and it looked like a victory sprint of non-favorites. But wonderboy Eric Vanderaerden bridged up with a massive solo similar to the one Cancellara tried this year, catching the escapers in the final k, and slaying them in de spurt. Check it out.
That's bull. I think there's nothing better.
Versluys, Wampers, DeMol, DeWolf, Dhaenens. All Belgian hardmen, descended from the original Roubaix outsider Belge: Pino Cerami, who won Roubaix at 38 in 1960, after a career as a domestique.
Roubaix is the race when many of those 'nearly men' get to use their Pave skill to advantage, particularly when the top favorites play cat-and-mouse, Like this year.
I'll always rejoice in days when the 'dark horses' are given a little too much rein. In days when they get a deserved opportunity to share some of the spoils pro cycling doles out so disproportionately miserly.
Days when after a cold shower in front of a dozen microphones, exhausted but excited, they take a cobblestone back to a small supporterscafe in a Flemish village somewhere, and commence a spontaneous celebration those there will recount for generations.
A Sunday in Hell? Okay, sure. A Sunday for Dreams?