Perhaps the reference is a little abrupt but I take hold of it as it comes to mind
Napoleon contended that "a head without a memory is like a fortress without a
garrison", as an expert it was a pragmatic way of emphasising the importance of
the lessons of history.
And this is what we are offered; history, to celebrate the Centenary of the oldest
of the greatest cycle races, Paris-Roubaix. Yet perhaps, it is more its eccentricity
than its antiquity that has made it so popular, a race that insists in these times of
rapid progress on launching its riders onto the most anachronistic and accursed
roads that it can find. "The last touch of craziness in cycling" as Jacques Goddet
put it a few years ago.
From 1896 with the victory of the German Josef Fischer to our modern heroes a
century later, the history of Paris-Roubaix is rich in exploits and sporting dramas;
and the dust or the mud of the cobblestones of the North have been here and
there spattered with the sweat and sometimes even the blood and the tears of
those brave champions who attacked them, intrepid and joyful at the start of
every April except those of the war years.
The following pages will relate all this in detail. These pages constitute the officialbook of the centenary of Paris-Roubaix; they trace ninety three years of this magical competition, of this pagan spectacle, which reqularly inflames thousands of spectators and millions of television viewers. Proof that man's emotional capacities are timeless and that - Napoleon was right - an outmoded race, on archaic roads with machines that were conceived many years ago preserves intact its usefulness and seduction.
This is the image we wanted to transmit, a treasury of memories for those already affected by Paris-Roubaix and a legacy for those who will be. For this project to succeed it has been necessary to call on the goodwill of a whole number of individuals but above all on that of the author, Pascal Sergent. To Paris-Roubaix he is both a curator and a historian. Already the author in two volumes of the history of this Northern Classic, he tracks down and collects posters, newspapers, photos, documents and objects which he conserves with
meticulousness and a rare passion.
For this centenary book he has re-opened his collection and taken up his pen
again. His work bears the stamp of exactitude and precision and if I add that he
is also involved in the official film, Paris-Roubaix 1896-1996 " le centenaire " an
exhibition, and a symposium you will acknowledge that with this inquisitive and
resourceful Roubaisan, Paris-Roubaix has found its keeper.
I must add in passing that as far as passion or even accuracy is concerned
Pascal Sergent is not the only one with such noble feelings for Paris-Roubaix.
There are many others, people as important as the mayor of Roubaix, René
Vandierendonck who based his new year's speech on the theme of the centenary
of Paris-Roubaix and who organised a superb celebration in honour of Gilbert
Duclos-Lassalle, twice winner of the event, at the time of his retirement from
competition. The Velo Club of Roubaix with Jean-Claude Valleys its general
secretary, the mail order firm La Redoute with François Sénéchal its Sponsorship
Director. They are all fans of the race and are all convinced that for the image
and the morale of the town the fame of Paris-Roubaix is a blessing.
For those elected to administer the region and to preserve its heritage, in
particular Jacques Donna the President of the Conseil General of the North and
his Vice-President Claude Larcanché, who are responsible for the roads, both
are aware that they have a part to play in the annual passage of the riders over
their cobbled roads. Are they too severe? Will they will be restored ? Will they
draw back from tarmac ? Fortunately they will be protected. The North has to
keep its character and its soul and Paris-Roubaix will play its part. The region is
slowly escaping thankfully, from the reputation which was epitomised by the
expression "The Hell of the North".
As the scales tip the other way the region wants to take advantage of its sense
of identity and its cobblestones which are the remnants of another age. We the
directors of the Tour de France, the heirs of Henri Desgrange and Jacques
Goddet, quardians of the title and of the character of Paris-Roubaix, responsible
for its organisation, its route, are conscious of the opinion of the whole of the
cycling world. Naturally we are thrilled and delighted at the positive and
consensual attitude shown towards the "Queen of the Classics".
It has always been subjected to intensive preparation. For many years it was
Albert Bouvet, now it is the turn of Jean-François Pescheux and his team who
are the keepers of its orthodoxy, of the indispensable balance between excess
and overcautioun in the search for difficulties to be surmounted between
Compiègne and Roubaix. Born of the peloton they know how far they can go.
Motivated by enthusiasm and guided by experience we hope that the collective
emotion and the festive atmosphere will be present on the roads of the North
when this beautiful and cruel adventure unrolls before the television cameras, the god of the valiant centenary, our Paris-Roubaix.
- Jean-Marie LEBLANC