A decade? Surely not? But it was 2007 when we met up with Dave Chapman in London and VeloVeritas headed for the ferry to the ‘Hell of the North‘, where we witnessed Stuart O’Grady take the line first in the velodrome.
Most of the names we mention have gone from the peloton – Flecha, Boonen, Cancellara, Stuey, Backstedt – but Pippo just keeps going, looking little different from how he did on the sunny Sunday, 10 years ago.
This April, will it be GVA again? Or will Sagan take the one he must surely desire above most others? Maybe big Sep Vanmarcke will come good at last?
In the meantime, have a wee wander down memory lane with us we continue our ‘Best of VeloVeritas‘ Years in The Saddle.‘
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We’re at Paris – Roubaix and it’s more like July in San Trop than spring in Northern France.
We’re in Wallers to take-in cobble sectors 19 and 17, both of which are on the outskirts of the village but at different ends, we had thought about watching at sector 18, Arenberg, but half of France has the same idea, it’s heaving, and we have to get up to the finish “soon-as” after we’ve cobble-watched.
We decided not to go to the start; too much crush, too much traffic and besides, we had to track down a can of tyre repair foam (we had a puncture with the Audi yesterday and we’ve no spare now).
Sector 19 runs through the maize fields, if you keep your eyes off the horizon, it’s a rural idyl. If you scan-out to the distance though, there are cone-shaped hills, covered with grass and trees. Only these aren’t hills, they are mine spoil heaps, ‘bings’ as we call them in Scotland.
When you sink shafts down into the earth, then run the ‘roads’ out to where the ‘black gold’ is, there’s an awful lot of drilled and blasted rock to dispose of; hence the bings. There are four within a couple of kilometres of where we stand.
It’s a long time since coal came out of the ground here, but the mine winding towers at Arenberg still stand tall over to our right.
The publicity caravan has started to come through; there’s hardly a breath of wind and it’s stiflingly hot. The dust off the cars is choking, it will be terrible in the bunch.
The speed was high early-on up those long, tree-lined avenues, but eventually a big group got clear; that’s only the early hands of the poker game though.
Grabsch (Milram & Germany) is 1-25 clear of the big break of around 30, with QuickStep well represented. The air is heavy with brown dust and the coureurs look more like miners who have just come-up to the pit head, than the tanned, sleek young atletes that they are.
It’s three minutes plus back to the CSC-driven bunch but Tom is right up there and bright-eyed. Top ten rider from last year, Bert Roesems (Lotto & Belgium) is way-back the group and Ghent Wevelgem winner, Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile & Germany) is stone-last in the string, but he’s been on the deck – his sparkling white tape is all torn.
There are still riders passing after 17 minutes and there’s Matt White’s (Discovery & Australia) bike on the sag wagon; Russian race-favourite, Gusev has lost a strong team mate.