Yesterday, La Doyenne: today, l’Enfer du Nord. Probably the most famous of the one-day spring Classics, Paris-Roubaix is also among the hardest, with its 259km taking in 28 stretches of cobbles – the notorious pavé.
In 1919, a party of journalists came to see how the route had withstood the previous four years of shelling and trench warfare. They described what they saw as l’enfer du Nord – ‘the hell of the North’ – which has been the race’s nickname ever since.
Today’s stage included ‘only’ seven secteurs of cobbles, totalling 20km, but they put the fear of God into the peloton and produced a fabulous day’s racing. So on a day when the Tour descended into cycling’s own version of Hell, my poem has a suitably diabolical theme.
THE DEVIL’S OWN
Your pleas and prayers are all in vain:
Today, you enter my domain.
Infernal miles of cobblestones
To blister hands and shatter bones,
Thick swirling dust to sting your eyes
And choke your lungs. I will devise
Fit punishments for every man
Who enters here in hope. You can
Convince yourself this is your day,
Have tasted victory at Roubaix,
But I’m the one who will decide
How far you go, how long you ride.
The maillot jaune is not immune:
Today, he dances to my tune,
Which you may think is undeserved,
But special torments I’ve reserved
For him: he’ll change his bike three times
And lose his jersey. Others’ crimes
Will earn them punctures, buckled rims,
Cuts and bruises, broken limbs.
The seven pavé sectors wait,
To purge your soul, decide your fate.
The Tour will not be won today,
But all your dreams may fall away.
Welcome to Hell.
Wanze-Arenburg, 213 km
Won by Thor Hushovd (Cervelo Test Team)
Maillot jaune: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)