Paris Roubaix. It is the Queen of the Classics. Set the Tivo for Versus at 3pm PDT on Sunday.
What makes this race so special? There are no hills, so you don't see the classic climbing duels that most Americans associate with epic cycling.
It rarely finishes in a bunch sprint that is so exciting to watch.
But what it has is everything else, and in massive, painful quantities. Wind, rain, mud. Oh, and Pavé. And not just any old cobbles. Nasty old cobbles. Cobbles that make the pavé of Belgium look tame.
The closest analogue I can come up with to explain Roubaix to a non-cyclist is this--imagine the Super Bowl, but you are playing without pads......against the 1970s Raiders.
This video shows it all. This is the Saxo Bank team doing a recon run a couple of days ago.
Note how much the bikes (and cars, for that matter) are bouncing around. The tires have so little pressure in them for comfort that they are hitting the rim on bigger cobbles. Watch the chain bounce around. All that bouncing is also going straight into their butts and hands.
They face 60km of cobbles on Sunday.
Here is a look from the handlebars at the fearsome Trouée d'Arenberg.
....and when the pros do it
These sections are so difficult, dangerous and critical to the race selection that the peloton is basically sprinting on the approach, with everyone fighting to be at the front. Hmmmm.....that sounds like a good idea.....let's wring ourselves out at 35mph to get to the front, so we can wring ourselves out for 1.5mi over vicious cobbles. Then, a brief respite, and we do it again.
That is why there are no fluke winners of Paris Roubaix. The roll call of champions is cluttered with the hard men of cycling--Boonen, Cancellara, Museeuw, Merckx, DeVlaeminck, Moser, Kelly, Hinault, Coppi.