Ev­ery pro­fes­sional ath­lete has a com­pet­i­tive streak, a de­sire to be the best. It’s un­likely that ever com­pletely goes away – even if you have been out of the sport for 14 years as for­mer Mapei rider, An­drea Ta!i has. It’s prob­a­bly why the 52-year-old Ital­ian, who has kept his ap­petite for com­pe­ti­tion whet­ted in re­tire­ment by rac­ing Mas­ters events near his home in Tus­cany, is now bid­ding to re­turn to Paris-Roubaix next April, 20 years af­ter he won there. At the time we went to press he claimed he had found a team to race with.

Aside from a nos­tal­gic de­sire to reignite feel­ings from his pro­fes­sional hey­day, why does Ta!i want to race Roubaix again? Mat­teo Tosatto, at 40, is the old­est starter Roubaix has had in the last !ive years, while even the old­est win­ner, Gil­bert Du­c­los-Las­salle, at 38, was still 14 years younger than Ta!i is now. His age alone in­di­cates he will not make the !in­ish, and for a rider who also won Lom­bar­dia and Flan­ders and whose nick­name was ‘the Gla­di­a­tor,’ that can’t be an en­tic­ing prospect, or one that will soothe his com­pet­i­tive side.

A 52-year-old starter in Roubaix would un­doubt­edly bring any team ex­po­sure, so it’s easy to see why spon­sors would be thrilled by the inches of col­umn space Ta!i would gen­er­ate. But cy­cling is a sport, and Roubaix is one of its most prized pos­ses­sions. Places should be earned, not handed out as a com­mem­o­ra­tive ges­ture. At a time when riders !ind them­selves dis­carded, some­times be­fore their ca­reers have even be­gun, hand­ing out team spots so freely seems even more of a waste.

So­phie Hurcom is sta f writer at Pro­cy­cling

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