Tafi won Paris-Roubaix in 1999 and announced in October that he was looking for a professional team that would give him a place on their roster just for this year’s Hell of the North. He struggled to find a team who would give him a contract for a day, but refused to give up on his dream of proving he could still race in the pro peloton even at 52.
Speaking to Cyclingnews on Saturday, Tafi revealed that the UCI and Paris-Roubaix organiser ASO had agreed to let him ride a few minutes ahead of the race. He was going to try to hold off the race and celebrate the anniversary of his 1999 victory with the fans along the 257km route.
The crash in a local race on Saturday forced him to abandon even that project. He will still travel to Paris-Roubaix but only as a VIP guest and spectator.
"Perhaps I wasn't destined to ride Paris-Roubaix one last time. Incredibly this is the first fracture I’ve ever suffered," Tafi told Cyclingnews despondently.
"It’s a pity but life goes on, cycling has taught me that you have to always fight on after every adversity. I’ve sacrificed five months of my life to train hard and be ready to race. I was ready but now I can only lick my wounds and look to the future. But I’ve no regrets."
Tafi crashed after being hit from behind. He does not need surgery but with Paris-Roubaix just a month away, the fracture will not heal in time to ride across the rough pave of northern France.
"If it’d been a normal road race, I could have trained on the rollers and still been competitive but the doctors have advised me against trying to ride on the pave just a month after the fracture," he explained.
Some former teammates had questioned Tafi’s desire to race Paris-Roubaix at the age of 52, doubting that he could even stay in the peloton or reach the finish in the Roubaix velodrome.
He insists he was simply driven by his love of the sport and his desire to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his victory.
"I was hurt by the criticism because I’d never wanted to steal the spotlight from the current riders or take a spot on a team from a younger rider. I just wanted to race for one more day and celebrate everything that is good about cycling and show to everyone that we can ride and race even when we’re over 40.
"The fractured collarbone won’t stop me doing that. I’ll still be at the start of Paris-Roubaix and will always ride my bike once I’m recovered. I love cycling and so I’m still going to celebrate everything that cycling gives us all."