Yesterday I got a big ol’ coffee table book in the mail: Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell, by Philippe Bouvet, Pierre Callewaert, Jean-Luc Gatellier, and Serge Laget, and published by VeloPress.
And after reading all 224 pages (OK, actually I mostly looked at the pictures, but there are a lot of pictures, and I looked at them very studiously), I had the following astute observations and questions:
- This book has a lot of really cool pictures.
- I didn’t know a tenth as much about this race as I ought to, and now I want to know more.
- I am really glad that Versus is going to be broadcasting some of this race this weekend.
- Does it really take four guys to write a 224-page book? I mean, did they need to get it done in one day or something? I swear, I got all tired out just typing the list of authors for this thing, and confess I briefly considered just saying it was written anonymously.
A Road Race That Should Be A Mountain Bike Race
Up until spending some time with this book, my clearest memory of Paris-Roubaix was watching A Sunday in Hell while riding my rollers a few winters ago. The thing is, while it’s an interesting documentary, there are big stretches where there is no riding at all. Which made it a difficult video for someone who’s only barely capable of forcing himself to ride the rollers anyway to stay interested.
I bring this up because this book captures the racer’s experience about as well as it could be captured without actually letting you swing a leg over and join in.
And I get the feeling that the Paris-Roubaix is a really terrific mountain biking race — or maybe a really, really epic cyclocross race — that for some reason is ridden on road bikes. In spite of the fact that calling a lot of the course a “road” is the very definition of “euphemism.”
I mean, you can bet Jacques Cadiou (1967, photo on page 89) wishes he had been riding with beefier rims:
A helmet probably would’ve been a good idea, too.
After reading this 224-page book, you know one thing for certain: the authors of this book love this race, and they feel their love pretty darned intensely. Consider the image / caption pairing here:
Belgian star Eric Vanderaerden’s legs are dead, his eyes coated, and his nose stuffed. he has trouble breathing. With his face a mess, he’s drawn like a magnet to the north, like a lost soul emerging from a Rembrandt canvas.
This writing is a little (OK, a lot) purple, to be sure, and the over-the-top verbiage goes permeates the book. I kinda suspect that this is a translation issue. Undoubtedly originally written in French, this kind of prose probably sounds about right in the source language. In English, on the other hand, it feels a little bit like a someone is standing too close to me, talking louder and louder and gesticulating like a madman, occasionally poking me in the chest: tactile punctuation. “Don’t stand so close, man,” I want to tell Messrs Bouvet, Callewaert, Gatellier, and Laget.
But still: you know for certain that these guys care more than just a little bit about this race.
And now they’ve got me excited about watching this race this weekend. So this book’s done its job.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Paris-Roubaix but are curious to see what it’s about before the race this weekend — or if you know it very well and want to relive the punishment — Paris-Roubaix: A Journey Through Hell is a good way to get caught up.