Roubaix Velo­drome

Af­ter 260km of hell, one and a half laps around a caul­dron of noise is all that will sep­a­rate the le­gends from the also-rans

Cyclist - - Paris - Roubaix | Insight -

The Champs-elysées, Alpe d’huez, Mont Ven­toux… iconic places all, al­though of­ten for their as­so­ci­a­tions with the Tour de France. There are few events out­side of the Tour that can com­pete, but the venue that hosts the fi­nale of Paris-roubaix – a race first run in 1896, mak­ing it seven years older than the Tour – cer­tainly comes close.

Roubaix’s velo­drome is also known as the Vélo­drome An­dré Pétrieux and ap­par­ently got its name from a lo­cal Roubaix fa­ther and son, who shared the same name and were am­bas­sadors for sport in the area. Out­side of that one spe­cial Sun­day in April, it is a some­what des­o­latelook­ing place: the empty grand­stands, the faded painted lines, the old shower block.

But once the tell-tale chop-chop-chop of the ap­proach­ing he­li­copter blades sig­ni­fies the im­mi­nent ar­rival of the ar­rival of the lead­ing riders, the packed-out Roubaix velo­drome sud­denly rum­bles and bub­bles into life. All at once, what ev­ery­one has been watch­ing on the velo­drome’s big TV screen is what they’re all see­ing with their own eyes: the lead­ing ath­letes rid­ing straight onto the hal­lowed track sur­face.

The track has hosted the de­noue­ment of every Paris-roubaix since 1943, save for the three edi­tions be­tween 1986 and 1988 when it was be­ing resur­faced. Of course, while the pavé sec­tors are the stars of the Roubaix show, the velo­drome has the hon­our of al­ways be­ing the site of the vic­tory. Whether solo or fought out be­tween small groups, the fin­ish pro­to­col is al­ways the same af­ter the lead­ers emerge onto the track: one-and-a-half laps of eu­phoric or ag­o­nis­ing track rac­ing af­ter 260km on the very worst roads north­ern France can muster.

The clos­est fin­ish came in 1990 when Canada’s Steve Bauer and Bel­gian Eddy Planck­aert were even­tu­ally sep­a­rated by a sin­gle cen­time­tre – in Planck­aert’s favour.

‘The velo­drome is a re­ally spe­cial place for me, be­cause the first time I fin­ished there was the time I fin­ished se­cond in 1994,’ says BMC sports director Fabio Baldato, who used to race for Ital­ian team MG Magli­fi­cio. ‘That was amaz­ing – un­be­liev­able – be­cause there had been mud and cold and snow for the first 100km, and then rain. It was a re­ally epic race.

‘I fin­ished Roubaix more than 10 times, but my favourite me­mory is when in 2008, aged nearly 40, I fin­ished 10th. I was thrilled to still be there at the end with the best riders. Af­ter I had a bad crash in the Aren­berg For­est in 1998, there was a pe­riod when I hated the race and didn’t want to do it. It took an­other three or four years be­fore I got my con­fi­dence back, but I did get it back, and fin­ish­ing Roubaix at the velo­drome has given me some won­der­ful mem­o­ries.’

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