Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell

Both victories began the same way. With a monster bridge up to a small group of leaders: Tete de La Course.

The suffering is unlike any I have felt before. The pain in my legs is overshadowed by the pain in my lower back. My teeth split small granules of the farmer's field as I close my mouth in search of relief from the dryness. My fingers are stiff like twigs and my eyes are searing from the swirling dust. I have the strength and the constitution to close the deal, to ride into the velodrome alone, with enough time on my rivals to adjust my jersey and to savor the moment. I ride the last 100 meters and my eyes well up, the tears begin to flow, I release the pain and suffering that has built up over the course of the day in a flood of emotions. I've received the ultimate gift from the Queen: the opportunity to call her my own for one year. My reward? A place in cycling history realized in the form of a plaque hung in the famous concrete showers.

As an adult, I don't dream the same way I used to. The dreams of flying replaced by dreams of losing my teeth and punching underwater. The stresses of adult life have squashed the youth right out of my slumber. However, over the month of December, I have on two occasions drifted off to sleep and awoke in the morning a winner of Paris Roubaix.

I attribute the victories to my time spent reading Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell, the new book published by VeloPress. Paris Roubaix (PR) is a comprehensive collection of past and present race images and detailed accounts of its history, having more depth than most PR accounts.

The essence of the book can be felt as you lay it on your lap and begin to page through it. The cover image shows a lone rider, Johann Museeuw, in his prime and entrenched in the mud. You can just hear the cacophony of sounds screaming from the rabid fans. A yellow Lion of Flanders flag stands out as one of the only splashes of color on the cover (the mud muting all others). To a bookstore passerby, the cover image alone would pique the curiosity of the un-indoctrinated: The cover shot is an ode to the material contained inside, a photo capturing all the things that draws one to this race.

Inside, the history of the race is laid out in simple form making it easy to devour large portions of the book in single sittings. As a fanatic, I've spent far too much time studying the images of the world's greatest one day race, where many of the images have become icons: Tchmil's muddy 1994 victory, the view down "The Trench," and the crown of the cobbled farmers' paths that reveal cavernous gaps between the stones (those wide enough to swallow up an unsuspecting tourist!). The images in Paris Roubaix captures a humanistic perspective that draws in the reader and annotates the surrounding text.

Something about this book has grabbed me in a way no other cycling book ever has. Mind you, Philippe Brunel's 1996 An Intimate Portrait of the Tour De France spoke to me, but this book punched me so hard it knocked a tooth loose. The book is a refreshing look at the world's greatest one day race, a race that over the past years has been distilled to fit neatly in a series of thumbnails on a Web page. Images lacking depth and truth. A Journey Through Hell brings the race back to life, capturing the faces of the people who make the race what it is. From the PROs themselves to the police to the spectators, this book packs your lunch and drags you and your family out for a day at the races.

Immerse yourself in this great race and at the very least, sip an espresso at your local bookstore while thumbing through the pages.

Then, try walking out without purchasing a copy of your own.

Paris Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell
VeloPress 2007

20 comments:

Ben said...

there are a few things that I am trying not to break down and buy, this book being one of them, but after reading your post my willpower is just about gone

Snarky McPants said...

Great review - looks fantastic. There goes a hunk of my "components fund". Thanks a lot!

Anonymous said...

Having been a fan of the classics since the era when looking at a 3 month old La Gazzetta that somehow wound up at the bike shop was as good as you could do, and having had the good fortune to ride most of the cobbled sections with my friends on two occasions, I also love this book. Watson's Road to Hell is also good but doesn't compare to the depth of this masterpeice.

With the free high resolution images from Google Earth, one can see and feel the potential that existed for much of the race's drama to be diminished (compare book photos of the cobbled Le Pas Roland with the smooth asphalt that exits today as the road climbs into Mons-en-Pevelle from the south. The modern construction (also visible in Google Earth) just west and south of the Lille airport has essentially eliminated the use of the sections that made Tchmil's victory, Museeuw's chase and Ballerini's misfortunes so memmorable in 1994. Fortunately, organizations such as http://www.lesamisdeparisroubaix.com/ will keep the current route (which is still excellent) from being ruined by development.

I liked the section in which famous French writers/artists/poets wrote about their individual experiences with the race. This section clearly dispells the notion that Hinault only rode the race once. Although a great story line, let's see if the English language cycling press stops perpetuating that myth?
-Mike Owens

Chet B. (Los Angeles, CA) said...

Excellent wordsmithery RF. I have an empty spot on the large-format bookcase, where my "Toad The Wet Sprocket" song tablature book used to be..."Walked on the ocean, swimmed on the shore"...something like that.

rosey said...

this was easily my favorite christmas present. even though my wife hates my cycling habit, she understood the need to keep me occupied during the snowy cold New England winter. or maybe she realized i'd stay inside with her to read this cover to cover...

Guy WR said...

A beautiful book. There's something definitely added in the translation from the writing of the French journalists that is evocative and captivating.

Bolivar said...

this is a great book that I have been dieing to get my hands on, finally got it for christmas...my favorite line so far is: "Pass in peace, gentlemen, you have enough to deal with in Hell"

bikesgonewild said...

...great quote at the beginning of the article & the book looks totally fascinating...

...as you now have two victories in 'the hell of the north', when i drift into slumberland tonight, i'll hope to awake having matched your palmares' w/ a second victory at 'la primavera'...
...while the conditions on the run into san remo are never as deplorable, nonetheless, i consider it an worthy accomplishment...

Tall & Manley said...

I received this from the wife for Christmas, along with Rouler's The Annual. I have to say I'm stoked to have both and will be happily ready the P-R book for the next several months.

ira said...

i just sat down to eat some bratwurst and kraut after my ride home and flipped through a couple chapters of this fine book before i checked BKW. crazy! the midwinter motivational things that we do to stay inspired to ride in the rain and cold. great review. thanks.

Jason said...

That book looks sweet RF! Thanks for the DL on it. That is one of a few road races I look forward to seeing the 15 min. of race highlights on Versus every year.

Love seeing the vintage stuff too. Often more inspiring than today's pros.

The Flandrian said...

Damn. I've got Pascal Sergeant's Century of Paris-Roubaix (cover signed by Roger De Vlaeminck!), and I thought I could resist buying this new one as well.

But like others -- having read the review, it looks like another costly visit to Amazon.

I'm supposed to be riding the Paris Roubaix Sportive in June.

Anyone who wants to follow my haphazard training process can do so at:

http://yearinhell.blogspot.com/2007/12/story-so-far.html

If you're riding the Sportive, or have done in the past, say hello. Pain shared is pain halved etc.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this fantastic review of this book. You've inspired me to get it special ordered at my local book shop.

Thank you also for putting the link to previous post on Tchmil. Out of curiosity, do you (or anyone) know if that Caloi he's riding in the picture is a re-badged Merckx MX Leader? I know they did that on Motorola, but was unaware that the Caloi retail name was also used on another pro team during the 90's.
Regards, Marco

pompier said...

This is a great book! I bought the French version last year by L'equipe while skipping around France, but the English version is way more superior and great intro by Bobke!

VeloPress said...

Freddy, it was a pleasure to read your beautiful review of Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell. Thanks very much for your kind words.

For your readers, save your component money and buy the book at Amazon.com, where the book is 34% off and (alone!) qualifies for free shipping.

Dave Trendler
VeloPress
dtrendler@insideinc.com

Paris-Roubaix at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Paris-Roubaix-Journey-Through-Philippe-Bouvet/dp/1934030090/

Todd Colby said...

Wonderfully written review! I'm buying one right now.

Strangelife said...

This book is with out doubt the proverbial "bomb".

Boom

Bravo BKW.

s

Joy & James said...

Ahh, Museeuw in his prime is something to behold. I want to believe he didn't dope during ALL of his races, particularly his memorable classics wins, but...

Anonymous said...

My copy of the book just arrived this weekend, and i wanted to say thank you again for the great review and inspiring me to get this book. The photography is fantastic and the articles are extremely well-written and detailed.

While there are other cycling books that look as good, none of them have the writing to match the great photos, such as what is collected in A Journey Through Hell. Best cycling book I've ever owned.

Regards, Marco

Stefan Rohner said...

great, thank you.