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With just eight days to Paris-Roubaix, there are already a couple of interesting stories coming out of the region that 'The Hell of the North' passes through. The first is the story of an astounding find by a farmer whose fields border the section of cobbles at Wallers, writes Olaf Priol.
While turning over the top soil on his fields, the farmer's tractor turned up what initially appeared to be a rusting piece of old metal. However, on closer inspection it turned out that the twisted piece of metal was in fact a pre-Second World War bike frame apparently discarded by a rider during a 1920s or 1930s edition of Paris-Roubaix.
No race number has been found on the bike and all identifying marks appear to have been eaten away by the clinging mud of northern France, but an original water bottle was still sat in its cage behind the saddle.
Scientists at Valenciennes have been testing the bottle and have made another interesting discovery. "In amongst the accumulated mud and water, we found traces of two French aperitifs in the bottle - cognac and pastis," said Dr Avril de Poisson of Valenciennes University. "We think the rider concerned must have been mixing the two alcoholic drinks with his water to get some kind of stimulant or even pain-reducing effect when on the cobbles."
Following on from last week's call on riders not to discard unwanted bottles and food wrappers into roadside fields from the mayor of Grammont in Flanders, a similar call has been made to riders set to take part in Roubaix by France's regional council of the North. Council president Jean Honeste urged riders to throw unwanted bottles and wrappers into waste bins that will be provided at the end of each section of cobbles.
"It can take days for us to clean up after the race has passed through the area," said Honeste, who admitted the cost of the clean-up is considerable. "I'd like the race organisers to consider adding time penalties to the finishing time of riders who throw away their bottles, perhaps five seconds for each bottle we find," added Honeste.
This year's 'Hell' is the last one that will be directed by Jean-Marie Leblanc, and there are already rumours of change for next year's race. The most radical is a suggestion from someone within the race organisation for a derny to lead the leading group of riders around the Roubaix track at the conclusion of the race. Leblanc would not comment on the idea, but was happy to shrug in typically Gallic fashion.
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