By now you ought to be well versed in the characteristics that combine to turn a rider into a rouleur. You should even be able to reel off the names of at least half-a-dozen of cycling’s finest, but do you think you could you identify a true rouleur’s victory, if you saw one on the road?
A rouleur’s victory can come from a sprint or a solo surge; on the cobbles or a climb; in a stage-race or a one-day classic. Far from an exhaustive set, here’s a quintet of our favourite examples.
Ian Stannard vs Etixx-Quickstep – Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015
“Etixx-Quickstep: How did they manage to lose that???” gasps an incredulous Eurosport commentator, Rob Hatch. He finds the answer with his very next breath: “Never underestimate Ian Stannard.”
Stannard’s odds-defying victory in the 2015 edition of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad proved that it was possible to beat the Belgians at their own game. Having pulled Stannard with them to the head of the race at 40 to go, Etixx had a 3-1 advantage as it reached the final five kilometres. All they had to do, surely, was wear Stannard down. Punch. Counterpunch. And repeat. How many times have we seen it before?
Although their riders made a couple of tactical blunders, ultimately it was Stannard’s strength, his refusal to recognise when he was beaten, that prevented a foregone conclusion from being realised. Rather than allowing them to put him in the corner, Stannard threw punches of his own, knocking first Stijn Vandenbergh, then Tom Boonen(!) and, in the final straight, Niki Terpstra to the canvas.
Heinrich in the Hauss – Tour de France 2009, Stage 13
Stage 13 of the 2009 Tour de France finished in Colmar, just across the German border from Freiburg. Home roads which a 25 year-old Heinrich Haussler found a big help. “It’s only 30k from where I live now, I know every corner of those roads, when it’s steep, when I can recover.”
The weather, which had been in the high thirties the day before had taken a turn for the worse overnight. “5 degrees and rain” may not have been to every rider’s taste but “it was the perfect situation for me. If it was 30 degrees and sunny, I wouldn’t have won the stage.”
Haussler won alone, by a country mile thanks to daring descending and, he said, the decision to go minimalistically up against the elements: “If you’re going downhill with a big rain jacket, gloves on, all that crap, you’re gonna need to push 50 watts more than someone who’s just got a jersey on and is more aerodynamic. If you look at the times, I’ve always lost time on the hills and on the downhill and flat, I made it up.”
The Greatest Ever Hell of the North? – Paris-Roubaix 2002
Not that we’re aiming for completion, but no list of rouleur wins would feel right without a mention for Museeuw, and his win in what many still consider to be the greatest running of Paris-Roubaix. Whether it really was, until at least the next wet one (could it be this year?), it will remain imbued with an elevated, almost mythical significance.
But there’s no doubt the 2002 Paris-Roubaix was more than just an on-paper classic: George Hincapie fell into a ditch; Tom Boonen announced his arrival on the one-day scene; and a 35 year-old Flandrien went solo 45 kilometres from the finish, showing everyone how it’s done.
“I know it’s a long way to go alone, but that’s tactics,” Museeuw told Rouleur. “I didn’t know the day before I’d go from so far out. If you don’t feel okay, you wait till the finale. But I felt great that day. I was 100 percent sure I was the best.”
There’s a few reasons we defer to the Lion of Flanders for our definition of rouleur. The manner of his final Monument victory is a big one.
Read: The last wet Paris-Roubaix
Poli put the hammer down – Tour de France 1994, Stage 15
With their football team having lost to Brazil in the World Cup final the previous evening, on July 18th 1994, the whole of Italy needed a win. The Tour de France was taking in Mont Ventoux that day, and there were few less likely to deliver it than the 6 foot 4, 86kg (roughly a Yates twin and a half) Eros Poli. Poli himself had no designs on the stage and the attack he made was born out of frustration rather than any realistic hope of victory.
Somehow, when the peloton passed through Carpentras for the first time Poli was already ascending and had a twenty-one minute lead. On any other climb, in any other race, even for a rider like Poli that should have been be a comfortable gap. The British commentary team of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen gave him no chance, speaking in the language of “when” and “where” on the mountain Poli would be caught.
While Poli didn’t exactly soar like his winged Greek namesake, he climbed steadily, did not over-extend, and those naysaying words were eaten. Poli rolled over the summit of Ventoux with his lead significantly shortened but still solidly intact. Five minutes in hand on a descent is worth much more to a big guy than twenty on a climb. Poli crossed the line more than three minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
He is Spartacus – Tour de France 2007, Stage 3
Stage 3 of the 2007 Tour de France, was supposed to be standard early Tour, by-the-numbers flat race fare. Briefly it seemed the break might make it to the line. Yet as the race roared under the flamme rouge, it was clear to all that the escapees would be swallowed up. They weren’t going down without a fight but the stage was set for its staple finish.
A flash of yellow suddenly appeared at the front of the peloton. And he had a gap. Fabian Cancellara, in the maillot jaune following the prologue, had snuck his way up and round the bunch, spotted an opportunity with 750m to the finish and went for it. The sprinters were unprepared and when they finally responded Cancellara was on his way. The Roberts, Förster, Hunter and McEwan, went after him, hard, but Spartacus was harder.
Jacky? Oh! – The Tour of Flanders 1992
Jacky Durand was another rouleur who liked a long breakaway, and was known for going from the gun. They rarely came to anything, but then he rarely expected them to. Like Peter Sagan claims, playing the game was more important than winning.
At the ‘92 Ronde Durand’s aim was simply to finish, having failed to do so in his only previous appearance. His best chance of survival, he felt, was to adopt his standard tactic. It was a hard fight to get there, along with Festina’s Thomas Wegmuller who was originally riding not for himself but for Sean Kelly, Patrick Roelandt and Carrera’s Herve Meyvisch, but they made it.
Before they knew it, with the major climbs of the day looming, the four-man group had more than twenty minutes on the bunch. By the Bosberg, Durand and Wegmuller had ditched their companions but the gap to the rest had closed to within just a few minutes. Durand put his head down, turned his pedals, and rode away from Wegmuller to become the first French winner of the Tour of Flanders since 1956.