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Knaven’s Roubaix winner: A bike too good to wash

Mechanics never washed the mud off of Servais Knaven's winning bike from the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. It's on display at Rapha's new Dutch store

SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — The mud of Paris-Roubaix is eternal. And in the case of Servais Knaven and his winning Eddy Merckx frame, he’s hoping it stays that way.

Moments after crossing the line victorious in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, a euphoric Knaven passed off his bike to Domo-Farm Frites mechanics, and was swept up in a media hurricane.

Hours later, back at the team hotel for a post-victory celebration, a mechanic pulled Knaven aside, pointed to the Eddy Merckx frame propped up against the wall. The mechanic, veteran wrench Chris van Roosbroeck, didn’t wash it, and nearly 15 years later, the same mud and grime from Knaven’s greatest professional moment remains caked onto the frame.

“It was the mechanics who chose not to wash it. After the podium, the bikes are always washed, but I am thankful they didn’t clean it,” Knaven told VeloNews. “I didn’t even think about the bike. Moments after winning Roubaix, my mind was elsewhere.”

Flash forward 14 years, and Knaven’s muddy Roubaix bike is now hanging on the wall at Rapha’s concept store in the heart of Amsterdam’s trendy “Nine Streets” district.

The 44-year-old is now the lead sport director for Team Sky at the spring classics, but back in 2001, he was a cog in Domo-Farm Frites cobblestone wheel. Superstar Johan Museeuw was leading the team, yet Knaven took advantage of a numbers game, attacking with about 10km to go out an elite group to take the most important victory of his 17-year racing career that spanned from 1994 to 2010. Horrendous conditions, with driving rain, mud, and wind, made that year’s Roubaix one to remember.

“Winning Roubaix, that was the highlight of my career, of course,” Knaven explained. “It was raining from the start. It was really muddy, and there were many crashes on the first sectors. The group kept getting smaller and smaller, and in the end, I think there were 30 of us left. It was a huge day.”

Domo-Farm Frites swept the podium, with Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins second and third, respectively. George Hincapie was fourth, and Wilfried Peeters, another Domo rider, was fifth.

Knaven’s muddy bike became something of celebrity in the months following Roubaix. Racing legend Eddy Merckx, whose name is emblazoned on the frame, displayed it in Compiegne to celebrate the centenary of the “Hell of the North,” and later had it on display at the company’s headquarters in Belgium. After about a year, Merckx gave the bike back to Knaven.

“It was a special bike for me. I only rode it twice; once in the recon, and then in the race,” Knaven recalled. “I kept it in the basement, where the kids played, but the mud stayed on the frame. It was nice to look at. You can still see where the water sprayed up on the frame. You can also see where I had a puncture, and they had to change the wheel in neutral support. It brings back the memories of that day.”

Of course, historic bikes hanging on the walls of museums and bike shops are nothing new. Belgium is chock full of such places. Oudenaarde has a museum dedicated to the Tour of Flanders while Roeselare hosts the Wieler Museum, dedicated to all things on two wheels.

Knaven’s bike ended up in the Rapha’s new Amsterdam store, which opened two weeks ago, at the behest of the UK-apparel company.

“Rapha is a sponsor of the [Sky] team, and they asked me if I would put the bike in the new café in Amsterdam,” Knaven said. “I said sure, so long as you protect the bike, and if no one can touch it.”

The bike hangs securely on the wall, along with Knaven’s winning jersey, also still muddied from the wild day across the pavé.

“It’s my lucky bike,” Knaven said. “Now that I have stopped racing, it’s nice to see people’s reaction when they see the bike. I am glad the mechanics never washed off the mud!”

Rapha Cycle Club Amsterdam
Wolvenstraat 10, 1016 EP Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 (0) 20 341 5082