With Paris-Roubaix only days away, we are taking a look back at some of the most memorable editions of “The Queen of the Classics.” The race favors the strongest riders who can handle the rough cobblestones, but a healthy dose of luck is always crucial in this unpredictable classic. What can we learn from the history of this grueling monument?
Studying Roubaix 1988: Demol’s all-day breakaway wins
The media, the fans, the riders all focus on five-star favorites before a major race — it’s only natural. With the woes of his 1985 injury behind him, Laurent Fignon was igniting the French fans’ enthusiasm by coming off a win in Milano-Sanremo earlier that spring. Two-time Roubaix winner Sean Kelly entered the race ranked No. 1 in the world. Defending champion Eric Vanderaerden of Belgium was also on the start line at Compiègne.
But Paris-Roubaix is unlike any other major race. Most cycling fans know this, but every so often the rough cobblestones of “The Hell of the North” reinforce that point when an unknown domestique, one who’s never won a professional race before, finds the right moment, sneaks away, and steals glory from the outright favorites.
Studying Roubaix 1996: Mapei’s dominant podium sweep
A phone call came in from Italy as the Roubaix velodrome inched closer: The Belgian will win.
It was placed by Giorgio Squinzi, the sponsorship director of Mapei, as three riders from his classics juggernaut rode alone and off the front in the closing kilometers of the 1996 edition of Paris-Roubaix. It went to Patrick Lefevere, then the director sportif of Mapei. Squinzi was clear. Johan Museeuw would get his first Roubaix win, even if it meant two Italians would be relegated to lower steps on the podium. Such decisions are the type of luxury that comes from sweeping a Roubaix podium with time to spare.
Studying Roubaix 2000: Museeuw’s triumphant return
Johan Museeuw’s first win at Roubaix came in 1996, on the 100th anniversary of the race. He was joined on the podium by his Mapei-GB teammates, Italians Gianluca Bortolami and Andrea Tafi. Museeuw was on his way to becoming the “Lion of Flanders.”
In 1998, he went on a ridiculous streak of classics domination, capturing E3 Harelbeke and Brabantse Pijl in the same weekend, before taking his third victory at the Tour of Flanders to equal the all-time record. Then, his world came apart. One week later, Museeuw had a horrific crash at Paris–Roubaix on the Trench of Arenberg pavé, shattering his kneecap. A dangerous gangrene infection developed, which nearly forced doctors to amputate his left leg.
Studying Roubaix 2001: When numbers counted
Paris-Roubaix is cycling’s hardest race, and its best editions are reduced to a mano-a-mano struggle, pitting the best cobble-bashers against one another all the way to the Roubaix velodrome.
But numbers also count in a big way at Roubaix. Over the past two decades, the teams of Belgian manager Patrick Lefevere have come to dominate the “Hell of the North.” Starting in the mid-1990s — first under the Mapei name, then Domo-Farm Frites, and most recently as Quick-Step — the Lefevere franchise has won 12 Roubaixs since 1995. No team or manager can come close.
Studying Roubaix 2014: T is for Teamwork (and Terpstra)
Before Niki Terpstra became Peter Sagan’s public punching bag, he was an unlikely winner of Paris-Roubaix, vaulted to the top of the podium thanks to some crafty tactics by Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Yes, Terpstra’s win brought back memories of Servais Knaven’s big Roubaix victory from 2001, and showcased a similar strategy. The team with the most cards to play inside the final 30km is destined to win. The win still stands as Terpstra’s biggest victory. It transformed him into a cycling hero from his previous role as that one Quick-Step guy who isn’t Tom Boonen, Zdenek Stybar, Stijn Vandenbergh, or Geert Steegmans.