9:00 p.m., October 2, 2021
Belgian cyclists did not wait for Julian Alaphilippe to sparkle on their land to return the favor to their neighbors. Before the world champion, crowned for the second time in a row last Sunday in Leuven after having won the Flèche Wallonne (2018, 2019, 2021), the couriers of the flat country have made the Roubaix velodrome their kingdom. Since the first edition of the northern classic in 1896, the Belgians have won it once in two (57 victories); and above all twice as much as the French (28).
For the Roubaisian writer Pascal Sergent, “the race brings together all the difficulties that go very well to the hard-to-do Belgians who are preparing for the spring classics”. Because in normal times, Roubaix is disputed in April; the pandemic prompted a five-month report after last year’s forced cancellation. If they drive great train on the cobblestones of Hauts-de-France, it is because the Flemish (a lot) and Walloon (a little) mastiffs have perfected their preparation for their primary objective, the Tour of Flanders, normally run one week earlier.
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In addition to sharing the record of four victories, Roger de Vlaeminck (1972, 1974, 1975, 1977) and Tom Boonen (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012) achieved the double; Cannibal Eddy Merckx has failed twice by nothing. Each champion has marked a generation. “We often see on television the victory of Johan Museeuw in 2002, remembers Oliver Naesen (AG2R Citroën). Boonen was third in his first participation.” Epic duels followed with the Swiss Fabian Cancellara, author of a powerful trilogy. These memories make Naesen “burn the inner flame”. And many others.
“In the center of the Pavé”
While saluting the perseverance of Francesco Moser, Bernard Hinault or Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, winner in 1992 and 1993, Pascal Sergent cites Roger de Vlaeminck as number one, “extraordinary” with his nine podiums in fourteen participations. “Merckx said that it was enough to take his wheel because he knew the location of each cobblestone, resitates the unofficial historian of the hell of the North. to slip over the aisle and burst. ” Picked up and agile, “the Gypsy” had virtually no accidents. Before turning to the road, he had excelled in cyclo-cross. Like Mathieu Van der Poel and Wout Van Aert, distant heirs, “capable of winning Roubaix two or three times each”. Sunday, they are among the favorites to succeed Philippe Gilbert, the last winner in 2019.
I don’t know many people who aren’t interested in Roubaix
The two off-road rivals, while perhaps waiting for Remco Evenepoel, continue a long tradition. And an uninterrupted lineage since Gaston Rebry in the 1930s (three victories). “I don’t know many people who are not interested in Roubaix, breathes Greg Van Avermaet, the first to cross the gates of hell in 2017. Young Belgian runners first dream of very specific cobblestones in Flanders but they adore live this day between Compiègne and Roubaix. ” He keeps “like a child” the image of Peter Van Petegem triumphant in his multicolored jersey of leader of the World Cup (2003).
The turning point 1930
The day Van Avermaet added this Monument to his prodigious CV, his compatriot Oliver Naesen had “one of the worst days of [sa] life “.” I started with good legs but it ended badly [31e]”, rewinds the one who now rubs shoulders with his hero in Vincent Lavenu’s team. With his senior of five years, he regularly evokes” this day of phew “. And says” much better armed “now.
The last French success, that of Frédéric Guesdon in 1997 in front of two Belgian riders (Planckaert and Museeuw), could believe in a rivalry on both sides of the border. Or, between the Belgians finishing their spring in apotheosis and the locals already focused on the preparation of the Tour de France, there has never been one. “Among the French, we have often heard ‘I must do Roubaix’, it was like a punishment”, regrets the author Pascal Sergent.
After the first two decades started by the locals, the 1930 edition marked a turning point: a 20-year-old kid, Jean Maréchal, was in the lead but the Flemish Julien Vervaecke was getting closer, and 20 kilometers from the finish a contact unbalanced the second; Marshal crossed the line first but was relegated to second position by the marshals. Since then, Paris-Roubaix has become “a second Belgian championship”, image Sergent. It is nothing to say it: if there is a tricolor who embodies a reborn ambition on the cobblestones, it is Florian Sénéchal, sixth in 2019. A teammate of Alaphilippe at the Belgians of Deceuninck – Quick-Step…