La Pascale: the Easter race.

Covered in honor...
Sean Kelly in the church of suffering in 1983!

Probably the most cruelest and toughest race on the calendar starts this Easter Sunday, the great Paris-Roubaix. This wonderful race adapted so well with Easter that it preaches a certain religious allegory of redemption through suffering. Two time winner, Sean Kelly said that it was the hardest race of all... and the most beautiful to win. It was so difficult that it hurt him to pee for three days afterwards. No wonder it's also called, La Pascale: the Easter race.

The first edition started back in 1896, according it as one of the oldest races in professional cycling. Only the two world wars stopped it. But, it's endured for it's passion for the hardship on the pave. In the aftermath of the first world war plans began for the race's return in 1919. Victor Breyer, correspondent for the newspaper L'Auto, went with cyclist Eugene Christophe and toured the devastated bombed out countryside. Afterwards, Breyer coined the famous phrase: "l'enfer du Nord or the Hell of the North."

Some of the pave is so old it predates back to Napoleon. Now, the dirt paths are use for the occasional farm machinery but, on this special Sunday reserved for a bunch of determined cyclists. There are 28 cobbled sections with the Trouee d'Arenberg or the trench of Arenberg as one of the most difficult to negotiate due to the unusually large pave. It is here that 2400 meters of cobbles were laid in time of Napoleon. Symbolic and dramatic, it's the spot that decides the race. Eddy Merckx said, "This isn't where you win Paris-Roubaix but it's where you can lose it."

On top of the temple...
A champion size cobblestone for
Jean-Marie Wampers, 1989!

More sinister is what 1962 world road champion & ex miner Jean Stablinski said, "In the mine, when the cage takes you 500 meters underground, you don't know for sure if you'll ever come back up. Arenberg is like a descent into the coal mine. If you start to think of the danger you won't even go there."


Beware the sacred Arenberg Forest...

For it is,

.... and dramatic!


Groover said…
Can't wait to watch it live Sunday night (little warm up for the TdF late nights). What's your guess who is going to win the 2009 editions?
Richard said…
My trio is: Hincapie, Flecha, and Hushovd. And not necessary in that order!