The Paris Roubaix cobbled classic: The Arenberg forest. by foto! on flickr
To celebrate today’s cobbled Paris Roubaix classic, a favorite skinny tire race of cyclocross fans, we’re taking a look back at the 1985 edition. In the 70′s through early 90′s, Paris Roubaix was often contested by racers who had impressive pedigrees in cyclocross. From former Cyclocross World Champion, “Mr. Paris Roubaix” Roger De Vlaeminck’s first win in 1972 (see our feature on Roger and his cyclocross reality TV show in Issue 8), to Bernard Hinault’s win in 1981, Eric Vanderaerden’s win in 1987 and Marc Madiot’s final win in 1991, cyclocross fans enjoyed two decades of cyclocross contenders racing over the cobbles of France.
In 1985, a young American from Nevada battled a handful of cyclocross legends out on the course in one of the muddiest Paris Roubaix races to date. This American also happens to have cyclocross bikes bearing his name and has built his very own cyclocross course in his backyard.
An excerpt of our exclusive feature on this cycling legend from Issue 11 is below.
The cobbles have a long history of drawing out cyclocross racers to road race podiums. by Jeaneeem on flickr
A young American, covered head-to-toe in mud, bears down despite the fire in his legs and lungs. He shields his eyes from the rain and grit and glimpses the leader’s Belgian national champion’s tri-color jersey through the tumult of weather and rabid fans. Brutal conditions make staying upright the immediate focus, despite the opportunity for a breakthrough win.
Up ahead, the three-time Belgian cyclocross champion starts to falter. He’s experienced in these conditions but made his attack too early. Now the former French cyclocross national champion takes off in pursuit with a teammate in tow.
The American is 45 seconds in arrears, and even though the time splits aren’t promising—the French rider continues to extend his lead—he remains dedicated to his dreams of a podium. The storied event has fired the American’s imagination since his first taste four years ago, but today is the first time he’s been at the front with a chance for victory. Every fiber within him burns.
He leads a small group down into the stadium, around a few corners and across the line. The bell announces one more lap. The 25 year-old from Reno is in contention for the first-ever podium placing by an American at this prestigious race, and he’s not leaving anything to chance. He moves to the front before the second-to-last turn to lead out the sprint for third, holds the position entering the final turn, and gives it one last kick. But the line comes just a few meters too late, and a fast-finishing Irishman nips him at the line.
It may sound like a recent memory of a talented American cyclocross racer breaking onto the scene in an epic European World Cup. But the year is 1985, and the soon-to-be-legendary Greg Lemond just narrowly missed the podium at Paris Roubaix.
Cyclocross Shapes LeMond
Unless you’re brand new to cycling or really young, you probably know a bit about Greg LeMond. If you’re getting up in years and race Masters events, perhaps the name brings visions of an ice cream-eating American kid who stormed Europe to win a World Championship and the Tour de France. Or maybe you were inspired by the original escape-death-and-win-multiple-Tours story after LeMond’s hunting accident. Or maybe you know the LeMond that has been publicly calling out riders and the sport for drug use, or has been embroiled in disputes with Trek, Lance Armstong and Floyd Landis.
Greg LeMond may encompass all of those things, and most of this stuff is all-too-well chronicled already, plus it’s all really roadie nonsense, right? This is a cyclocross magazine after all, and we’re here to talk about Greg LeMond, the racer who not only loved and exceled in the hard, dirty races like Paris Roubaix, but also is a huge believer in cyclocross. Yes, cyclocross.
LeMond’s love for our favorite form of bike racing isn’t well documented. Heck, it’s not really documented at all. But from the very first day he arrived in Europe as a newly signed pro for Renault-Elf, cyclocross had a profound impact on him. To greet LeMond and his wife at the Paris airport was none other than new teammate Bernard Hinault, waiting to pick them up. Their first destination? A pro cyclocross race in Lille where Hinault would line up and race.
“That was the first pro bike race I ever attended,” recalls LeMond.