Most professional bike races have natural lulls in the action.
Nothing much is going on, the riders are wondering whether they might all pull over and answer the call of nature, and Sean Kelly is quietly rattling on about the composition of the sandwiches available at the next feed station.
You can wander off for a cup of tea safe in the knowledge that the KM’s in the top left of the screen may have ticked down, but that was the extent of the live action. The French TV producer has been fixating on slo-mo close ups of rattling bike chains, and Eurosport have been cramming in adverts for watches and ovens.
You’ve missed nothing.
But as a spectacle, there’s a genius about Paris-Roubaix.
The lulls are there but they’re short and snappy, and are filled with a KM countdown to the next sector of cobbles. And on the cobbles, anything can happen. Riders can fall, puncture, run out of energy, or lose thirty places with a touch of the brakes or a poor decision.
Miss a cobbled sector and you risk missing a defining moment. And in between you gather yourself, survey the damage to the riders, and countdown to the next sector.
It’s breathless, and compelling.
And if you’re lucky someone else, uninterested in the bike race, might brew up.
You want to know how compelling Paris-Roubaix is?
In the 2017 edition of this race the man of the day was (eventual winner) Greg Van Avermaet’s team-mate Daniel Oss. He buried himself in a display of guerilla warfare for the sake of his mate.
He rode hard, up the road, through the dust and the baying crowds, and not once did I find myself ridiculing his pony-tail.
Where usually the sporting of such a hair-do would, to my mind, negate any good work done on the bike, it became a side issue. To ride so well that a pony-tail is relegated to the second most pertinent fact about a bike racer is the highest praise I can give.
Even had he removed his helmet to reveal a top-knot, I would have considered overlooking it.
He was THAT good.
But the 2017 edition will be remembered for more than just Oss’s maniacal mop of hair.
While many neutrals may have watched the race misty-eyed as Tom Boonen, in his final race, fell just short of contending for the win, some of us discovered a new favourite rider.
Van Avermaet? Oss? Langeveld? Stybar?
I’m talking Gianni Moscon, the young Italian from Team Sky.
Yes, he finished 5th in his second ever Paris-Roubaix. Yes, he currently has a picture of a car full of apples for his Twitter header. But these aren’t even the best things about him.
As I discovered via respected cycling blogger Inrng.com not only does Moscon play the accordion for fun, he has a proper, old-skool, agricultural cyclist’s nickname.
I give you: ‘Il Trattore’ – The Tractor.
As team mate Luke Rowe put it:
We all do, Luke.
(Images: Daniel Oss embedded via gettyimages.co.uk | Trouee d’Arenberg via lfgss.com)
Ha ha, made me chuckle. Not sure I’d be that enamoured if my nickname was the tractor. Cycling has quite something about nicknames. The Badger. The panzerwagon.
Not yet found the love for Paris Roubaix. Too flat for me and overreliant on good fortune. That said, I’m waiting for a wet year when the riders can’t use the mud gulleys.
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And the Tractor has a foul mouth… 😉