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