France’s Second Most Famous Bike Race

Spring time is an exciting time for cycling fans. It’s not all about the Tour de France, there are other bike races! Some of them last for a few days, some for as long as a week, but some of the most famous of all are one-day races. These include some of cycling’s most famous, most revered races of all, and five of them are known as ‘The Monuments’, monuments to the fallen soldiers of two world wars.

The five monuments are Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy. This year, fantastically, Britain’s Mark Cavendish became only the second Brit to win the Milan-San Remo after the great Tom Simpson in 1964.

If there is a first amongst equals it is Paris-Roubaix, a race from Paris to the velodome of Roubaix. It famously features several sections of Pavé, traditional paved sections of road, typically about 50 Km out of a total of about 280Km.

It is known as L’Enfer du Nord (The Hell Of The North), the ‘Queen of the Classics’. This is the most prestigious one-day bike ride in the world – more so than the Olympic road race and arguably more than the World Championship. Paris-Roubaix winners have their reputations assured for life, and this year April 12th was the day.

Needless to say, the rider who won the most ‘Monuments’ was the peerless Eddy Merckx with a total of 19 wins. Of current riders, before today, Paulo Bettini has won 5 ‘Monuments’, Eric Zabel and Tom Boonen 4 each, but of these only ‘Tornado Tom’ had won Paris-Roubaix.

And today he did it again! Tom Boonen was the winner of the only Tour de France stage finish that I’ve ever seen, in Angers back in 2004.Tornado Tom on a stretch of 'Pavé'Today’s ride was a classic – Paris-Roubaix puts extraordinary pressure on both bikes and riders. They don’t ride the super-light bikes on display during mountain stages of the Tour de France, they have wider tyres, longer frames, some use cantilever brakes, dampening systems in the forks, even jubilee clips to stops seat pins slipping down on the cobbles. Broken wheels and punctures are par for the course – and Tom boonen punctured today. But he got a replacement bike quickly enough to hang on and ride for a win. It was a gripping, fantastic finish over the last 20 Km, and there’s a great description of an epic ride on the VeloNews website.

So Tornado Tom has won three times now. The same number of times as Eddy, just one less than Roger De Vlaeminck. That really is something, and establishes Tom firmly in cycling’s all-time Hall of Fame. Great work Tom. I did a good ride today as well, but I’m happy to stand aside for a three-time winner of the Paris-Roubaix.

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