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Albert Nicolas Thierry


Heaven of the North

April 1992. It hasn't been raining the whole week. The roads in the North of France are dry. The sun is hidden behind the clouds but there's no rain. Everybody is talking about 1 thing. The Hell of the North, Paris – Roubaix.

The cobblestones, better known as “pavés”. The forest of Wallers-Arenberg. The flats, the crashes. The heroes struggling to the velodrome of Roubaix. Newspapers are full of it. One of those heroes is Greg LeMond. He looks motivated. He always is for Paris – Roubaix. Remember 1985 where he got 4th place and posed with his mud covered face for the cameras.

Circumstances were different that day. There was no sun. Only rain and mud. The Mondriaen pattern of the La Vie Claire jersey was mixed with brown and black colors from the mud. It was hard to compare the different teams. Definitely when cameras were filming them from the front. After his forced abandon in 1984 due to several mechanical problems he completed the Hell of the North for the first time. And how. He became 4th after an heroic  battle between the leaders of the peloton. A small group was chasing Marc Madiot, his former teammate for Renault. The Frenchman took advantage of the others looking at each other to respond his attack. With only 20 kilometers to go the chasers with Sean Kelly, Eddy Planckaert, Rudy Dhaenens, Jef Lieckens, Greg LeMond and Madiot's teammate Bruno Wojtinek were trying to get back on the former French champion. But they couldn't Madiot won and his teammate, Wojtinek, took the opportunity to become 2nd after he attacked from the chasers. Again it was Kelly who outsprinted Greg in the sprint for 3rd place. It was his best result ever in Paris-Roubaix. It was also the muddiest ever he participated. But he was happy. He loves the race and said later he couldn't go faster.

Cameras are rolling. The French television is broadcasting. The live images are in the air. We're back in 1992. There's a lot of Z jerseys in front of the peloton. I can't see who it is, but there's 3 or 4 of them. There's a lot of dust form the dry roads. Then … glimpse. I don't need more to know what I saw. The Scott drop-ins, the style, the expression. It's Greg. He's riding in front of the peloton. A closer look tells me he's riding a special bike today fitted with the Rockshox front fork suspension helping him to ride more comfortable on these hard cobblestones.

Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, loyal teammate of Greg, is also riding with this suspension. But he's not in the peloton. He's in front of the race with names as Fignon and Ludwig. The peloton is chasing them. Only 45 kilometers to go. The peloton is closing down the gap. On the next sector of “pavés” Duclos-Lassalle attacks. Nobody is able to react. He's gone.

Not much later the rest of the leading group is caught by the peloton. With only their French teammate in front the Z's are disturbing the chase. There's no organisation in the peloton and the gap is not closing down. Jean-Claude Colotti and Greg LeMond are the main reason for that. Each attempt to attack is countered by Duclos-Lassalle's teammates. Greg is playing with his pedals. He's strong today. I have the feeling he's able to attack but he can't. He's loyal to Duclos-Lassalle and does everything to help him win the race.

Roubaix is nearing. I'm getting more nervous. In some way I want Greg to attack and go for this victory but on the other hand I also like Duclos-Lassalle to win the race. Another attack. Another reaction from the Z team. There's Greg. He's following another rider trying to attack. They have a small gap, but Greg refuses to help. He's loyal. The peloton comes back. There's no way anyone can escape from the Z brigade. Or is there ? All of a sudden a Panasonic rider is alone. It's Ludwig, the German sprinter who was in the leading group before was trying to catch the leader. The Z's know he's tired so they let him go preventing others to attack, letting the others know the race is over. Greg and Colotti are still controlling the peloton. Or what's left of it. It's size has been reduced to an elite group with some strong Z riders in it.

The final kilometers are a true Z Vêtements show. Roger Zannier, boss of the Z team, must be happy with all this publicity. When Duclos-Lassalle enters the Velodrome the crowd is cheering his name. “Duclos !, Duclos !”. When he crosses the line the French commentators are losing it. He deserves it after hunting this victory for years. Second places in 1980 and 1983. 4th in 1989, 6th in 1990 ant 7th in 1994. Decibels are rising and when Ludwig arrives the 40 years old Duclos-Lassalle is already celebrating for about 34 seconds.

The chasing group is on its way now. Greg's in a good position. The French commentator is supporting him and Colotti to get 3rd place but a 9th place is the result. His second best performance in Paris-Roubaix since his 4th place 1985. The best results of a former Tour de France winner in Paris-Roubaix ever.

Cameras are searching for Duclos-Lassalle. It's not the Frechman they find. The find 3 Z riders celebrating. It's Colotti, Duclos-Lassale and Greg. Greg shouts “We'll drink champagne tonight” (watch it here). He's happy. Maybe more happy for his teammate than for himself. “He deserves this. He's always there for me when I need him in the race”. It's true, remember Duclos-Lassalle waiting for Greg in the 1990 Tour de France stage to Pau where he got flat and Chiappucci attacked. Duclos was in front, but waited to help his leader. “I'm happy I could give hime something in return. I was strong. If Duclos-Lassalle was not in front I certainly would have attacked. This feels like a victory to me”.

The next day the newspapers show a huge picture of the winner of Paris-Roubaix on the cover. But inside it's about Greg. All positive news. He's in good shape. The Hell of the North became a heaven that day. Not just for Duclos-Lassalle but for the whole team, including Greg LeMond.


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