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Die dog or shite the licence: Sport’s greatest documentary

April 19, 2009

AS MANY a rhino and fully packed-up army regiment are ‘tapering’ for the London Marathon, my attention turns not to Brendan ‘Bren’ Foster or Steve ‘Crammy’ Cram’s commentary but towards Northern France, Flanders, Holland and the Ardennes.
Because, it is at this time of the year where the real hard men of world endurance sport are crowned and where real sporting drama can become an art form.
In the cycling races Paris Roubaix and Tour of Flanders et al, the hardest professional riders brave strong winds and terrible conditions in a series of one day, eyeballs out, muck-and-gutters, die-dog-or-shite-the-licence endurance drags to prove who is the daddy.
Paris Roubaix, from Compeigne 60k North of Paris to the velodrome in eponymous town of the race’s title, is the truest test of the biggest, hardest most powerful ‘rouleurs’ in the peloton.
Amid 166 miles of racing there are 20 sections of pavement, no longer used by normal traffic. The riders fight over broken cobbles either blinded by dust thrown up by support vehicles on dry days or through mud and gutters after spring downpours.
They are supported by huge crowds, glugging beer and chips, who throng the roads where once WWI raged. The race was given the savage soubriquet ‘The Hell of the North’ in 1919, and this race is a different kind of hell for today’s riders.
It is cycling as far removed from the glamour of les Grands Tours and the sportives of modern times as can be and closest to the sport’s late 19th Century roots.
Some the greats have won it several times: Eddy Merckx won it three times (once by the record margin of more than 5 minutes), Francesco Moser three times in a row (1978-80), Bernard Hinault won it once and vowed never to go near it again while my hero Sean Kelly, (below) took the trophy twice.

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