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Felix Lowe: A dream of Paris-Roubaix

Felix Lowe
4 Apr 2018

Out of Felix Lowe's mixed up mind comes a vision of the perfect Paris-Roubaix

Every episode of Paris-Roubaix has its own story, its heroes, its plot twists, its triumphs and tragedies. As I was snoozing on a TGV passing through northern France recently, I began to imagine how this year’s race might pan out, but in my sleepy mind it became a bone-shaking dash through the history of the race, assembled from all its greatest moments.

As the fug clears, I see nervous riders roll out of Paris – or is it Chantilly, or Compiègne?

At this early stage the bunch sticks close together. There’s Fabian Cancellara close to the wheel of Roger De Vlaeminck, and Rik van Looy chatting to Johan Museeuw, while Eddy Merckx and Tom Boonen move to the front of the pack, only to be interrupted by Maurice Garin crashing into two tandems, one being ridden by his own pacers.

As with every Paris-Roubaix, the first bit is somewhat uneventful, right up to the point when the cobbles come into view.

Then: boom! Actually, make that Boom: Lars goes on the attack in the Arenberg, narrowly avoiding a sprawling Philippe Gaumont and Museeuw.

Bernard Hinault is forced to shoulder his bike past the race director’s car. And is that Greg LeMond with suspension in his front forks?

With 85km remaining four Mapei riders break clear – including Museeuw, making light of a gashed knee.

On the attack

It’s left to Cancellara to attack from distance while, behind, nothing can split Boonen and De Vlaeminck.

Poor Kurt-Asle Arvesen, though, seems to be missing a saddle. He should think himself lucky: at Mons-en-Pévèle there’s horror on George Hincapie’s face as his steerer tube breaks, detaching his bars.

The sprawling American brings down Cancellara who in turn is bunny-hopped by Peter Sagan

With 40km to go, Museeuw defies what is clearly gangrene – he’ll have to have that leg amputated if he’s not careful – to ping clear. He’s joined by Hennie Kuiper, in spite of two earlier crashes.

It’s Carrefour de l’Arbre time as Cancellara speeds ahead (in his team car), Leif Hoste is knocked down by a motorcycle and Thor Hushovd crashes.

And then – calamity for Hinault! The Badger is floored by a dog called Gruson... or is that the name of the cobbled sector? Merckx also appears to be human after all, his six-minute buffer fading fast.

Entering the final 6km both Kuiper and Museeuw flat – the latter while pointing to his leg.

Niki Terpstra attacks from a chasing group of 10 riders that features Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas, the black and white figures of Charles Crupelandt, Octave Lapize and two Pelissier brothers, Peter van Petegem, big Magnus Backstedt and – struth! – it’s only flamin’ Stuey O’Grady!

Josef Fischer’s massive early lead of 25 minutes comes to nothing after separate incidents involving a horse and some cows.

Henri Cornet, his mouth full of dust, passes Johan van Summeren, reduced to riding on his rims after a flat.

Hinault crashes for a seventh time with a few clicks to go while the returning Thomas Wegmuller appears to have a plastic bag jammed in his derailleur.

Outside the velodrome at Roubaix there’s pandemonium when André Mahé is directed the wrong way by a gendarme.

Miraculously, three Mapei riders once again lead the race. It’s going to be an easy win.

But no! Sean Kelly, invigorated by heavy rainfall, comes round the outside and is ready to celebrate... only to be denied by Aussie veteran Mat Hayman who Zwifts past with a broken arm.

Then, confusion: Fausto Coppi has launched an appeal. Just as the organisers contemplate gifting the win to Fausto’s brother, Serse, I’m woken as the train rattles across a particularly bumpy stretch of tracks, rain lashing against the window in this bleak region of northern France.

And passing through a level crossing I spot two impatient cyclists throwing caution to the wind and clambering through the barriers.

You know what, I could have sworn they were Van Petegem and Hoste.