Slogging through cold, wet mud and across brutally pounding cobbles doesn’t sound like fun to most people, but for those admirers of the sport who love their cycling uncompromising, tactical, physically exhausting and exciting, Paris-Roubaix has a certain beauty.
This beauty is captured admirably by American filmmakers Davide Deal and Dave Cooper in their new DVD, Road to Roubaix. We were enthralled right from the opening, stirring bars of the string-heavy soundtrack.
The pair blend captivating visuals – both archive material and footage from the present-day race – with commentary from the likes of two-time winner Tom Boonen and his countryman Peter Van Petegem, former Tour de France director Jean-Marie LeBlanc, perennial contender George Hincapie and 1985 and ‘91 winner (now Française des Jeux directeur sportif) Marc Madiot, as well as cycling writers and photographers.
It’s stirring stuff, and becomes even more so as the film commences its climb to the climax – Stuart O’Grady’s victory in the 2007 race.
Like most successful sporting documentaries, Road to Roubaix relies on the sights and voices of those involved to tell the tale. There is no cheesy narrator, no pretentious ‘expert’ and a distinct lack of the cringeworthy moments that normally manage to infiltrate sporting films.
There are moments reminiscent of Jørgen Leth’s legendary 1977 production A Sunday in Hell, plus others that evoke memories of the more recent Hell on Wheels (2004) from German director Pepe Danquart. Cycling fans are likely to be well-acquainted with both of these – if not, they’ve become virtually compulsory viewing.
There are plenty of people who don’t understand why cycling fans get so excited about the month of April but this film could go a long way towards making our seemingly odd behaviour a little less perplexing. Road to Roubaix uses the right combination of cinematic techniques, score and insider knowledge while remaining accessible to those outside the sport in order to get them enthused about the world’s most feared and famed one-day classic.