L’Enfer du Nord – The Hell of the North – Paris-Roubaix, whatever you call it, is not for the faint hearted. It is one of the most grueling events on the calendar and made for the strongmen. Apart from the murderous kinderkopjes (baby heads, how the Flemish refer to the cobbles), the race is a cocktail of dust, mud, rain, bad roads and severe cold. Riders race against the elements as much as they do against each other. Two men stand out from the crowd with their achievements in the race, both having conquered the Hell 4 times.
Roger de Vlaeminck
Monsieur Paris–Roubaix won the race in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1977. De Vlaeminck also came second four times making an impressive eight podium finishes. In 2012 De Vlaeminck said in an interview on Belgian television: ‘I can not stand losing. That goes for cycling, billiards and even playing cards. That’s why I did everything I could to win.’ His most magical Paris-Roubaix victory was in 1975. Eddy Merckx was supreme in that edition, but De Vlaeminck managed to pip The Cannibal on the line in the velodrome.
De Vlaeminck hasn’t always had kind words for Boonen providing extra motivation for the man from Mol to beat his record. However, since he retired in 2017 Tommeke can be ruled out of adding an unprecedented 5th victory to his palmares.
Boonen’s last victory, in 2012, was simply stunning, attacking with teammate Niki Terpstra with 55 kilometres still to race, quickly dropping Terpstra and soloing home in the style of his great rival Cancellara. On the podium he received the Mounted Cobble for the 4th time, following his wins in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Boonen was the first rider in history to win the Flanders-Roubaix double on two occasions. He has since been matched by Fabian Cancellara’s 2010 and 2013 exploits.
Seven riders have won Paris-Roubaix three times: Octave Lapize, Gaston Rebry, Rik van Looy, Johan Museeuw, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser and Fabian Cancellara.