Paris-Roubaix in all its splendor. On Sunday we saw an elf runner lying on the ground, with panicked British coaches who dared not touch the body like witnesses to a crime scene (he gets away without a break). A northerner competitor who joins the arrival in a stretcher, packed in a survival blanket (suspicion of fracture). A Swede overwhelmed by a puncture and using his right foot to move in the manner of a scooter. A Swiss who insults the whole world at a place called the Crossroads of the Tree, sports directors who do not have time to throw him a replacement wheel or his opponent of the Hauts-de-France team who refuses to wait for him and reply with insults too, where there is talk of mums and dirty things. Clouds of cement gray dust or magically gilded in the sun, the poetry does not prevent the runners from suffocating. Falls in all directions.
Stress plays on the bladders
Thus goes the Paris-Roubaix juniors, reserved for the best world of 17 and 18 years, event organized in curtain raiser of the "big" Paris-Roubaix (read opposite). This "Hell of the North" travels 110 kilometers, of which 29 kilometers paved, half less than the professional version, but no less frightening as adventure: the bikes break and the skeleton too, the fear adjoins the adrenaline as in a hostile nature, the cold is the same for everyone, confirmed or aspiring champions. It is 2.5 degrees at the start of the junior race, given Saint-Amand-les-Eaux (North). Thibault d'Hervez: "It'll be fine, I'm used to, on weekdays I'm a roofer's apprentice, it's freezing in the winter and we burn our hands with slates in the summer." The Breton of 17 years, last called in team of France, perpetuates the tradition of hard of Paris-Roubaix, the exaltation of the suffering that the legend has placed in mirror of the mining and working history of the North, values which pass the ramp up to a runner born after the year 2000. "I was expecting something violent, it was even worse," said the Finistère boy on Friday, his greedy tone after his discovery of pebbles cut.
It's an in-between period, en route to adulthood. The juniors hide to cry and, when the parents come to encourage them, they pretend not to recognize them, as at the exit of the school, while begging softly: "You do not have a tissue? Do not you have water? " These are future champions or generous strangers who will remain so. Most are already followed by professional teams hoping to recruit them in four to six years, some are advised by sports agents, a handful has a fan club, mainly Belgians, or Hugo Page, another member of the French selection, known for generating watts and promised a bright future, unless the figures are planted, which happens often. He lives in Chartres, in Eure-et-Loir, where he trains across the plain of wheat, big headwind and small plateau mandatory. Page, another lover of cobblestones: "It's the hardest and most beautiful race. We give ourselves more thoroughly than usual. It's the last one that's going crazy in the head. "
The Beauceron heals his image, immaculate white helmet, perfect rounded back when it heats up on home trainer. If he does not become a professional cyclist, he would like to be an insurer or real estate agent. On his left, D'Hervez also turns his legs, less anguished by the style, a cockroach to the eye that he reaped in Lozere, on a race disputed between two flurries: "I went straight down a slope. My glasses exploded. Risky Business !" A rider from the France team wants to go pee. Then two. Three. And all six. A quarter of an hour before the start, stress plays on the bladders. At five minutes, Kevin Vauquelin is alarmed: "It looks like my bike is cracked. The saddle moves. Is she going to hang on the cobblestones? " No time to change. The pack is shaking.
"The bike absorbs my life"
Moment of panache for Hugo Page who tries a long counterattack completely futile behind the American Michael Garrison. Before falling to 7 kilometers from the finish, stunned, the features in agony but back on the bike in ten seconds: "Nothing is finished, we never give up." Louka Pagnier is distanced and he tries to apologize to the car of the team of France: "Sorry, I fell." Breeder's response: "Take back your concentration, get back into the race." The inevitable misfortune continues: Vauquelin did not dislocate his bike threatened microbrisures, but his electric derailleur has tripped. He had to pull heavy gear for three hours. Renouncing his chances, he loads his arms with cans, which he will offer to his teammates. A container in each hand. Howler of the breeder: "No, no, keep your hands down!"
Paris-Roubaix junior is a test bench before tackling one day, perhaps, at the famous professional race. A dream to look like the stars that these still children have seen on TV. An initiation rite, as they tell it with their words. Antonin Corvaisier, sure value of the France team: "It's another world. You go to the end of yourself. This is where you become a runner. " His colleague Kevin Vauquelin: "The bike absorbs my life. I know what I want to do, I have a goal and it's a chance. I do not think I'm out of step with friends of my age. There are plenty of ways to live your youth. Me is the bike. " Paul Penhoët: "We live our dream." Julien Thollet, the coach of the France team, notes that the race loses nothing of its attraction: "It's a bit sado-maso to want to participate in a test that hurts so much, but juniors come here to discover their limits."
A Frenchman finished second in the sprint on the concrete velodrome, behind the Dutchman Hidde Van Veenendaal. Hugo Toumire wears the jersey not of the national team but of Van Rysel, the reserve of AG2R la Mondiale. Hair in petard, he eats a chocolate waffle: "For two seconds, I was disappointed to lose, but in reality it's great! I am very happy to be on the podium. This race is a myth. When I train alone, in the winter, around Rouen, on fairly exhilarating outings with a long distance and rain, a headset to listen to some music, I think only in Paris-Roubaix. I get up in the morning for Paris-Roubaix. I live for this race! "
Thibault d'Hervez, the runner-roofer, slashed 60 km from the end, on the cobblestones of Orchies, in the scent of roasted merguez, under the gaze of two giant pigs dressed in wedding attire. He fell 2 km away, nicking his upper lip. He fought successfully to finish before the broom car picked him up. "I can say that one day in my life, I did Paris-Roubaix!"
Pierre Carrey Special Envoy on the road to Paris-Roubaix