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The last wet Paris-Roubaix: the unforgettable race

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Mud, crashes, stag dos, a VHS player, David Duffield and an inverse rain dance 15 years on. Rouleur managing editor Andy McGrath revisits the last wet Roubaix for the next issue of Rouleur

Photographs: Offside/Presse Sports

Okay, I admit it. I was the one who jinxed the 2016 Paris-Roubaix.

 

A few months before the race, I had come up with an angle for the first issue of Rouleur in 2017: retelling the story of the last muddy edition of Paris-Roubaix by talking to the protagonists. It was way back in 2002; fifteen years without a wet Roubaix is some feat.

 

But what if it rained for the Mat Hayman edition? With all the evocative modern photographs, the other race would be old hat. Luckily, my crossed fingers for decent weather paid off.

 

Research was enjoyably old-school. After sourcing two objects flirting with obsolescence, a VHS and a VHS player, I watched the final 130 kilometres.

 

The route is the same, but cycling has changed: Max Sciandri’s helmetless head, Kelme’s gaudy kit, no carbon fibre and commentary from the late, great David Duffield.

 

With 20 kilometres to go, Duffield had a quirky gem: “I don’t know if Bradley Wiggins, who rides for La Française des Jeux, is watching this programme. But Bradley gave me a postcard – here Sean [Kelly], you can’t quite see it: Paris-Roubaix winner 2008, Bradley Wiggins. I wouldn’t go near this race no matter how much you paid me … Bradley can’t wait to ride and win in the year 2008.”

 

Wiggins had a pretty good career, even without his dreamed-of victory.

CYCLISME - COUPE DU MONDE - 2002 hoj (frank) michaelsen (lars) douche parution livre paris/roubaix p 155

This centennial edition was a brute. George Hincapie fell into a ditch. One Mapei rider just stopped in the breakaway and refused to get back on his bike. The muddied Johan Museeuw went on a 45-kilometre winning break. An unknown Belgian kid called Tom Boonen had his breakthrough ride. Whatever happened to him?

 

I wanted to combine a retelling of this extraordinary race, tying in nerves, tactics, past anecdotes and lessons for the present Roubaix. Fortunately, the contenders hadn’t forgotten the mudbath in a hurry.

 

There were a wealth of enjoyable nuggets. Tom Boonen enjoyed casting his mind back to a time when nobody knew who he was; Lars Michaelsen had his stag do during the race; breakaway Hans de Clercq recalled riding the final 45 kilometres with a broken wrist.

 

Happily, it backed up my theory: everyone’s got a story at Paris-Roubaix.

 

Rouleur issue 17.1 is on general sale on January 27.