Hunger over les paves - hell by name, hell by nature

King Kelly

An except from from Sean Kelly's autobiography Hunger, a look back at an unforgettable 1984 Paris-Roubaix.

There's a myth that grew as my career went on. Some people said that if it was raining on the morning of a race, I would draw back the curtains and rub my hands together in glee. The perception was that I relished the bad weather, enjoyed it even, but that was certainly not the case. No one likes to be cold and wet; it was just that my body coped with the conditions better than a lot of others. I was just as miserable as everyone else, it's just that I was able to keep pushing hard.

Paris-Roubaix is a horrible race to ride but the most beautiful one to win. I was in great form and as the rain fell the day before the race I knew my chances were improving. On race day it was grey and uninviting. Although the rain had stopped the cobbles would be wet and muddy. I knew I would be in for a hard day but I also knew a lot of riders wouldn't fancy it in these conditions.

Of all the big classics, Paris-Roubaix is the flattest, but don't imagine it's easy. There's almost no opportunity to freewheel and gain any respite. It's pedal, pedal, pedal, as hard as you can.

As soon as we caught Braun and Bondue, I went to the front to drive the pace. Braun was dropped immediately. Bondue hung on a bit longer than I expected but then he slipped on the cobbles at Camphin-en-Pevele and fell. The cobbles there are really vicious, but Bondue's crash was probably as much down to fatigue. That left just me and Rogiers, not a rider I should have feared in the sprint. As we approached the finish in the velodrome at Roubaix, De Gribaldy came alongside me in the team car. His message was simple. "Whatever you do, don't mess this up."

In the velodrome, I maneuvered Rogiers to the front, where I wanted him. In the end, the sprint looked quite easy but it was anything but. I was tired and relieved.

The next day, with my cobblestone trophy on the kitchen table and my bike still caked in mud in the garage, my whole body ached. My hands buzzed from the constant vibrating on the cobbles. It was like pins and needles. My undercarriage was raw. When I went for a pee the burning sensation made me wince. Paris-Roubaix is the hardest single-day test a rider can face.

Having won the Hell of the North, the press gave me a nickname of my own: King Kelly. As nicknames go it was quite a nice one to have.

April 9th: 115th Paris-Roubaix