TOO CLOSE LASSALLE
On the morning of the 1993 Paris-Roubaix, reigning champion Duclos-Lassalle strode purposefully through the hotel lobby. As he did so a 13-year-old boy tried to wish him well. However, Duclos-Lasalle, one of the most amiable guys in cycling, failed even to look at him, let alone acknowledge him. The boy was upset, but his mum explained that he shouldn’t take it personally. It was just that Paris-Roubaix was a very big race, and he was immersed in it.
Out on the road he alone clung to the wheel of the Tuscan rider Franco Ballerini. In the sprint they were indivisible to the naked eye, but Ballerini was convinced. He raised his arms and, amid funereal scenes in the velodrome, set about his lap of honour.
Then, just as Olaf Ludwig won the gallop for third place, a mighty roar illed the velodrome. Ludwig was a popular rider, but the Roubaix public weren’t in delirium at his having outsprinted Benjamin Van Itterbeeck. The roar was because Ballerini had been mistaken; Duclos had won the Hell of the North again. After 267 kilometres he’d beaten Ballerini by just eight centimetres.
All told Duclos-Lassalle rode 17 editions, and he remains an iconic igure. That’s why the sector at Cysoing à Bourghelles has been re-named “Pavé Gilbert DuclosLassalle” and the railway bridge between Wallers and Hélesmes “Pont Gibus”.
And the tearful kid in the hotel lobby? He was the son of a famous bike rider, who himself went on to race Paris-Roubaix four times. His name? Hervé Duclos-Lassalle.