All wars are destructive and terrible; but the world had never before seen an apocalypse such as that which scoured the landscape of Northern France and Belgium, leaving only suffering and nine million deaths in its wake. When the organisers sent an exploratory party over the route, nobody was quite sure what they'd find - were there still roads? Did any villages remain? As they traveled further, the damage grew progressively worse until they were surrounded by utter annihilation. The blackened, devastated land was empty, save for scorched stumps and the rotting corpses of cattle. L'Auto reported,
"We enter into the centre of the battlefield. There's not a tree, everything is flattened. Not a square metre that has not been hurled upside down. There's one shell hole after another. The only things that stand out in this churned earth are the crosses with their ribbons in blue, white and red. It is Hell!"Paris-Roubaix's nickname comes not from the comparatively minor suffering of those who race, nor from the tough cobbled roads which, for much of the event' history, were simply examples of how roads were in that place and in those times. It comes from what the organisers found: L'Enfer du Nord, The Hell of the North.
After he'd been first to cross the finish line, which that year only was on the Avénue de Jussieu behind a dairy that had been one of the few buildings to survive, a victorious Henri Pélissier summed the day up to perfection. "This wasn't a race," he told the crowds, then added, "it was a pilgrimage."
|Was Jean Maréchal cheated|
out of Paris-Roubaix victory?
However, Jacques Augendre - whose Vélo-Légende is considered one of the most authoritative histories of French cycling - doubted the incident ever happened, or at the very least that it happened quite like judges heard. Maréchal, he says, was riding as "an individual for a little bike-maker, Colin, and he got to Roubaix alone. His happiness was short-lived. Arbitrarily accused of having provoked a fall by Julien Vervaecke, with whom he had broken away, he was disqualified without any sort of hearing. Important detail: Vervaecke belonged to the all-powerful Alcyon team, run by the no less powerful Ludovic Feuillet..."
La Flèche Wallonne has also taken place on this date. The first to do so was the 33rd edition, which took place in 1969 on a 222km parcours running from Liège to Marcinelle, and the winner was Jos Huysmans. The next time it was held on this date was in 1978 when for a fifth and final time it both started and finished at Verviers, following a 223km loop that Frenchman Michel Laurent was the fastest to complete. The 58th edition, also on this date, was in 1994 and for the eleventh year in a row it ran from Spa to Huy, the route in between being 205km from end to end. The winner, Moreno Argentin, had also been victorious in the 1990 and 1991 editions, making him the third rider to have won three. Another Italian, Danilo di Luca, won when the 69th edition fell on this date in 2005. The 201.5km parcours that year ran between Charleroi and Huy. Philippe Gilbert won the last time the race was held on this date in 2011, continuing the Belgian supermacy in this race that has seen them win 38 editions, 20 more than nearest rivals the Italians. For the 14th consecutive year, the parcours ran from Charleroi to Huy. Though the trend has been for shorter races as average speeds have increased since the earliest days of the race (the second and third editions were 280km), 2011 saw the largest increase - 3km - since 1992. For days later, Gilbert also won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and became the seventh rider to have achieved the Ardennes Double.
The eighth edition of La Flèche Wallonne Féminine fell on this day in 2005, covering a 105.5km loop starting and ending at Huy. Nicole Cooke won for a second time, her first victory having been two years earlier. 2011 saw the 14th edition, again on this day. At 109.5km - raced, once again, on a loop starting and finishing at Huy - was the longest in the race's history. The winner was Marianne Vos - between 2007 and 2009, the Dutch superstar had equalled the record of three consecutive wins set in the men's race by Marcel Kint in 1945. With this fourth victory, she beat the record for multiple wins set in either race.
(image credit: Historia del Ciclismo)
The 2013 edition of the EPZ Omloop van Borsele took place on this day in the Netherlands. The winner, after a race in which the narrow roads and tight corners caused numerous crashes, was Vera Koedooder of the Sengers team.
He might not be as well-known overseas as Bjarne Riis and Jakob Fuglsang, but Rolf Sørensen remains Denmark's all-time most successful rider in history by a long chalk with 53 professional victories including some of the most prestigious events.
(image credit: Eric Houdas CC BY-SA 3.0)
After turning professional in 1986, he won the Points competition at the Danmark Rundt, then won the Youth Classification a year later before winning the Points and the Youth classes in 1988. One year after that, he was 3rd at Gent-Wevelgem, revealing his future potential as a Classics specialist. The Classics, in fact, would turn out to be the source of his most impressive results with victory at Paris-Tours in 1990, 2nd at Milan-San Remo and 3rd at both the Tour of Flanders and Liège–Bastogne–Liège in 1991, 1t at Paris-Brussels in 1992, 1st at Liège–Bastogne–Liège and at the Milano-Torino and Rund um den Henninger-Turm semi-Classics in 1993, another Paris-Brussels in 1994, 2nd at Milano-Torino in 1995and 1st at the Tour of Flanders and 3rd at Züri-Metzgete in 1997. He also performed very well in the shorter stage races, winning Tirreno-Adriatico overall in 1992 at Tirreno-Adriatico and a stage in each of the five times he entered the event and Stages 1, 2 and 6 at the 1993 Tour de Romandie. Unusually for a Classics specialist, he didn't do badly in the Grand Tours either - he won Stage 14 at the 1994 Tour de France when he was also 19th overall, Stage 13 at the Tour in 1996 when he was 28th overall and Stage 9 at the 1995 Giro d'Italia before retiring in 2002. In 1991, after his team won the Team Time Trial, he wore the Tour's yellow jersey for four days until a crash left him with a broken collar bone.
Fedor den Hertog
|(image credit: Left This Year)|
He won the Omloop der Kempen and Ronde van Limburg in 1970, then another Tour of Britain and a National Amateur Track Championship a year later and followed up in 1972 with the Tour de l'Avenir, a race created partly to reveal riders with the potential to perform well in Europe's most important cycling events. One year later, he won the Olympia's Tour and, finally, was made an offer he couldn't refuse - the Frisol team had got him for 1974, and he was soon riding in the Tour de France. Few riders do well in their first Tour because the race is so much bigger, harder and beyond anything else; but den Hertog grabbed some very impressive finishes: he was 11th on the prologue, 2nd in Stage 12 and 14th in Stage 21b, managing a very respectable 27th place overall. He didn't win any stages in 1975, when he was again riding with Frisol, but upped his final General Classification placing to 18th. Having stayed away in 1976, he won Stage 10 in 1977 before abandoning with a knee problem in Stage 13. That same year, he also won Stage 3 at the Vuelta a Espana, Stage 5 at the Tour Méditerranéen and the National Road Race Championship.
In the 1978 Tour de France he finished just off the podium for Stage 22 and was 25th overall, then finished Stage 8 in 3rd place in 1979 but dropped to 48th overall and retired soon afterwards. In 2007 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which would lead to his death at the age of 64 on the 12th of February in 2011.
Jennie Reed, born Kirkland, Washington on this day in 1978, won numerous National and World track titles between 1994 and 2008.
Bernard Quilfen, who was born in Argenteuil on this day in 1945, won Stage 14 at the Tour de France in 1977 and was fourth in Stage 21 a year later. He was, perhaps, one of the first riders to concentrate almost entirely on the Tour, a phenomenon that culminated in Lance Armstrong, as he achieved very little else; he won Pontoise in 1977, his first Tour year, but that he won nothing at all in his other Tour years of 1979 and 1980 suggest that all other races were merely preparation for the Tour. In retirement, Quilfen became a directeur sportif of Cofidis.
Marco Lietti was born in Gravedona on this day in 1965 who won Stage 16 at the Tour de France in 1991. During his ten season career from 1988 to 1997, he rode only for teams based in his native Italy.
On this day in 1930, the Union Vélocipédique Française set up a Bicycle Polo Commission in reponse to the growing popularity of the sport which appears to have first been played in France five years previously, an import from over the Channel where it's been played since at least 1895 when the Northampton, Newcastle, Coventry, Melton Mowbray and Catford clubs were formed.
Other cyclists born on this day: Daryl Perkins (Australia, 1943); Alojz Bajc (Yugoslavia, 1932); Jaap Meijer (Netherlands, 1905, died 1943); Boyan Kotsev (Bulgaria, 1930); Joseph Said (Malta, 1954); Mikoš Rnjaković (Yugoslavia, 1964); Daud Ibrahim (Malaysia, 1947, died 2010); Erol Küçükbakırcı (Turkey, 1952); Kobi Scherer (Switzerland, 1931); Didier Faivre-Pierret (France, 1965).