In the lead up to Paris-Roubaix, the Belgian press are using the rich resources Flanders has to get a good idea of what the classic of the north means to the one-day specialists, the true Flandriens. Sven Spoormakers of Het Laatste Nieuws reminisced with Eddy Planckaert about his glory days; about that race in 1990 in which he knew his biggest and last big victory. The day he won Paris-Roubaix, in front of Canadian Steve Bauer whom he beat in a millimetre sprint in the velodrome of Roubaix.
"It was my last chance to win Paris-Roubaix." Eddy Planckaert recalled. "I had dreamed about it the night before. My dream came true. I went, with still hundred kilometres to go. All on my own. My brother Walter - who was my sports director at Panasonic - declared me insane. When I gained two minutes, I waited. Van Hooydonck, Gayant and Bauer and a few others came back. All the other favourites didn't dare to move. Then Bauer attacked on the Carrefour de l'Arbre. He gave it his all and I rode next to him, whistling. Then only Van Hooydonck remained. When we entered the track, Gayant and Wampers joined us. Jean-Marie (Wampers) tried to pull the sprint, but Van Hooydonck went from far. He let Bauer pass underneath and I had to go the whole way around. On the last piece I closed my eyes and stopped breathing. I threw my bike and won."
There wasn't even a centimetre in it Planckaert remembers: "A centimetre; forget it! Five or six millimetres, yeah. Fifteen minutes after the finish I still wasn't sure. Did I win or not? But everybody kept congratulating me. The soigneurs of the team fell in my arms. Post said I had won. I didn't believe them. I hadn't seen it myself because I was sprinting with my eyes closed that last hundred meters."
Winning Paris-Roubaix was the biggest achievement in his career, a stunt Eddy is still very proud of: "It gives my palmares 'cachet'. I won on average eleven races in a season; in Spain, in France, in Italy, here... Races like Omloop Het Volk or the E3-Prijs; who remembers that I won those two times? No-one, do they? Eddy Planckaert, he won Paris-Roubaix. And the Ronde Van Vlaanderen. And some people know that I once won the Green Jersey in the Tour de France.
"You know, more than the Ronde Van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix if the world championships of the classics specialists. Coureurs like myself, they simply had to have Paris-Roubaix on their palmares. If I never won it, I would have been ashamed for eternity," the most colourful offspring of the Planckaerts claims.
"I swore to myself, as a little boy that I would win that race. I was ten years old and stood along the cobbles, with a spare wheel in each hand. My brothers Willy and Walter were riding. The first rider to pass was Eddy Merckx; wearing his rainbow jersey. His face enchanted me then. The grimness it radiated. That I had and would have to be capable of myself. From that moment onwards Paris-Roubaix had something divine."
Planckaert went on to paint a colourful picture of how it must feel to win solo on the track in Roubaix. "It must be an unbelievable feeling to enter that velodrome by yourself. To experience everything at ease, without having to stress about those others who also want to win the race... it has to be like an orgasm. No, better than an orgasm. A sort of trance; a feeling as if you're floating meters and meters above ground.
"The cobbles are the hell, and the track is heaven. And well, the showers are inferno. It's just the order of things isn't logical. They're tombs, from the coldest stone I ever felt. Sometimes the water was hot and then you were lucky. But when you won, you entered the showers as the last rider. Then there was only fog. You were standing there; in a sort of a mist, all by yourself, underneath a measly stream of ice-cold water.
"Paris-Roubaix, that's suffering. That's cobbles. That is dust and mud in your nose and your throat and your ears and your eyes. That's cursing a whole day, and yelling and shouting. But I would have never wanted to win Paris-Roubaix without experiencing those showers afterwards."
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