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Our 2009 Paris-Roubaix Awards

‘It was the heat of the moment. Telling me what your heart meant…’

What’s more embarrassing: Is it the fact that the lyrics and the power chords from Asia’s ancient & godawful song are still so easily in mental reach? Or is it the very act the song commemorates -- pillow talk -- that arouses self-conscious shame? After all, who hasn’t been stung tomorrow by today’s confessional tenderness?

I’m now nearing 40. Pillow talk at this point consists of ‘Do you want me to drive the kids to school tomorrow?’ Momentary effusions of vulnerability are rarer than rare which is why the 2009 Paris-Roubaix was such a remarkable experience. I made full use of my subscription this past Sunday and was up at 6:30am to watch the final 140km’s in its entirety. And no doubt we’re all experts by now at what unfolded and by the end I was exhausted but thoroughly sated with joy. The race played out like a classic in every sense of the word, in my mind matching the thrill of my all-time favorite edition, the 1997 victory by Frédéric Guesdon.

I was like a teenage girl, unable in my overwhelming delight to be self-reflective. Rather I felt a primal compulsion to email and call and text everyone I knew, What a race! I gushed. And then the elders started to speak. People for whom I have great respect (some of them current members of the professional peloton) replied to me with a similar line of thinking: ‘Not much fun to watch a bike race get decided by crashes,’ which echoed the single comment The Almighty Lance made about the race, ‘Watched Roubaix and the Masters. The Masters was more exciting actually.’

And with that, I felt like a total dork. I can’t deny it: I was on the edge of my seat for the last 2 hours of the race; the crashes in the Carrefour de l’Arbre literally had me shrieking at my computer; and the Boonen vs. Pozzato pursuit race over the last 15km was déjà vu of Tchmil vs. Musseuw in ’94 and the suspense had me pretty much peeing in my pants. Wegmueller and his fateful Ziploc bag in ’88. The Tchmil vs. Moncassin slug-fest in the shadow of the velodrome in ’97. Over cocktails sometime let me recite to you my all time top-20 moments in Paris-Roubaix. The last 20km’s of ’09 seemed like a lock for the top-3. And then the elders spoke and I was thunderstruck with self-contempt. It wasn’t just my fully-amped need to share, but it was the purity I felt in my thrill…Dammit, don’t I qualify as an elder by now? Why didn’t I assimilate the race in the same way they did?

So now, 48 hours later and newly trained at the priority of being cool, a quick set of awards for the 2009 Paris-Roubaix:

The Karma Police Award: Team Saxo Bank. Two caveats: (1) I am a huge Jens Voigt fan and I celebrate his victory earlier this year at Criterium International. (2) I am fully aware that the Ardennes Classics are right around the corner and the Schleck Bros. in particular live and die for those races. That being said, though, can it possibly get any worse for Team Saxo Bank? Criterium International aside, they’ve been horrendous this spring with zero in the way of consequential results.

Karma Police, where does that come from? If you watched the ’09 Paris-Roubaix play out live, you would’ve noticed that Saxo Bank’s big, bad move came with about 65km’s to go when their remaining riders hit the front and did a team time trial leading into and through the final feed zone of the day. By Paris-Roubaix standards it’s an unwise place to attack. It was smooth tarmac up to a gradual overpass and there could’ve only been two reasons for it: (1) They felt so desperately out-gunned by Quick Step that their best tactic was to deprive them of their final feed. (2) George Hincapie was off the back after a flat, and Stijn Devloder, too, was off the back after a bike change. Perhaps they saw it as an easy means to flick two favorites with minimal effort.

Perhaps I’m being naïve in thinking that an attack in a feed zone or after a mechanical is a no-class move. But it seemed super-lame as the attack unfolded…which made me think there was a divine reason why only one Saxo Banker ended up in the top-10. 10th, to be exact. At 5:29.

The Dazed and Confused Award: Amateur bike racers sensitive to the idea of a code of honor on race day. I feel conflicted. Now that I’ve written it, I’m not so sure Saxo Bank’s tactics as cited above deserve criticism. I’m conflicted because Tomke & Thor rightly threw down after crash #1 in the Carrefour de l’Arbre and Tomke (again, rightly) floored it after crash #2. I wonder if bike race etiquette (as it pertains to mishaps and their ramifications) is always subject to their circumstances --

* Demol didn’t attack Wegmueller during the Ziploc bag incident in the ’88 Paris-Roubaix.
* Ullrich didn’t attack Armstrong and Hamilton played homeroom mom during l’affaire mussette in the ’03 Tour.
* Schumacher won the ’06 Eneco Tour after causing a crash that took out imminent-race-winner George Hincapie.

….And on and on. What’s right, and what’s wrong? My question, perhaps, is this: Is there consistency to the unwritten rules about when it is & is not permissible to attack? Is it cool to use any of these occasions as a reason to attack? Maybe I just need a re-education. Maybe Saxo Bank was genius,

* At a feed.
* When a rival has a flat.
* When a rival has a mechanical (non-flat variety).
* When a rival crashes.
* When a rival takes a nature break.

The Most-Quotable Award: Leif Hoste. Our all-time favorite quote from Paris Roubaix is from Team Mapei legend Johan Museeuw several years back. During a pre-race interview with Paul Sherwen he said ‘To win Paris-Roubaix you must have the legs and you must have the lucky.’ And we’ve spent many years since trying to track down the lucky. Leif Hoste, he of eternal bad luck in the cobbled classics, was raging at the finish: ‘Flecha ruins my race first of all when he wasn’t pulling and acting stupidly. Then he was able to attack, and in the end it turned out he wasn’t even able to steer….’ Honesty in the media is so rare. Up against banal Twitter tweets and PR-firm vetted press releases, Leif Hoste is a breath of fresh air.

The Human, All too Human Award: Jin Long. picked up on a neat article from the AFP about Team Skil-Shimano’s one-and-only Chinese rider. Given China’s totalitarian habits, I dunno how often Long gets exposed to the Euro peloton, but stories like these are always eye-opening. We’ve gotta give Skil-Shimano props for supporting him, and for backing Asia’s most prominent member of the ProTour, former Discovery rider Fumiyuki Beppu of Japan.

The My Eyes Are Playing Tricks On Me Award: Tom Boonen. The accident where the moto plowed into the crowd at 63km to go was enough to make anyone’s stomach turn. The Youtube videos show that Boonen looked back once, then twice, no doubt to see if any of his rivals hit the deck. Can anyone find a bit more extended footage of this? The reason I ask is that I have a clear recollection in the live coverage of feeling like Boonen held up on his attack right after the moto incident -- like for a moment his race stopped because he realized the gravity of what’d just occurred. I suppose maybe he was just easing up to recover after his attack. But when it went down live, I caught a vibe that it wasn’t that at all.

Best PR Award: Cervélo. For a year and a half Cervélo has wrestled with how to effectively promote their RS frameset model. It resembles their super-popular (and 2-time winner of Paris-Roubaix) R3 model, but it has a longer wheelbase and a taller headtube. Since promoting a bike’s stability (long chainstays) and inherent comfort (higher handlebar) tends to emasculate a bike in the eyes of shallow racer snobs like yours truly, Cervélo struggled to position as an authentic race bike. Last year they swore to their dealers we’d see Team CSC on the RS from time to time, and we’d see the team’s tallest rider, Allan Johannsen, on it with great regularity. But the team never rode it once and Johannsen retired mid-season and it continued languish. And then, voila!, the Cervélo Test Team came out in full force on the RS in the ’09 Paris-Roubaix. To see powerhouses like Thor Hushovd and Heinrich Haussler killing it on the RS even for just one day -- it’s Midas-like. The team had 4 placings in the top-15, and from here forward the RS has the imprimatur of full-on legitimacy as a race bike.

And a few random things here not directly related to Paris-Roubaix:

– The race immediately on the Wednesday between Paris-Roubaix and the Amstel Gold Race is Antwerp’s Grote Scheldeprijs. Surely you saw the final 1km…right? And in terms of a photo = 1,000 words, here you go.

Nick Nuyens’ Giant at Ghent-Wevelgem. Is this to keep a seat clamp bolt from pushing upward into the saddle shell where his rump can feel it come through? Seems like an awfully thick piece of wood to accomplish that, no?

– We’ve been silent on the economy and the world of bike racing of late -- mostly because the racing’s been so good, not because the economic news ain’t happening. Did you hear about Astana and their (lack of) payroll? This reads like a companion piece to recent articles about Kazakhstan’s cratering economy.

– Have you seen this trailer for an upcoming movie about George Hincapie? I loved the trailer, and I was lucky enough to see the rough cut of the full film last weekend. It’s exactly what it purports to be: An 80-minute conversation with George. Think of it as akin to My Dinner With Andre, but it takes place on a training ride to Caesar’s Head. We’re being told it’ll be available for sale by the end of May. Do yourself a favor and grab the DVD when it comes out.