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Tchmil the Kill

A dry Paris-Roubaix will batter and can even break the strongest, but rain makes it much harder. The heavens opened in 1994 creating apocalyptic conditions and producing a killer winner.

Words: Chris Sidwells
Photos: Offside

Hell hath no fury like a wet Paris-Roubaix. They call it the Queen of Classics, the route passes through the Hell of the North. Both evocative names and both created early in the race’s history, yet both still fit today. Paris-Roubaix is rooted in its history and should remain so forever.

Every race through Hell is memorable, conjuring long-past images of strength and suffering, but a wet Paris-Roubaix borders on the macabre.

Cobblestones; the celebrated stretches of farm and colliery roads called pavé, built two centuries ago for cart wheels and horses, make Paris-Roubaix what it is. Rough, pot-holed and badly repaired they are hard to ride when dry, add moisture and they become near impossible. It poured with rain in 1994. One hundred and fifty one riders left Compiègne heading north, but only 48 made it to the finish in Roubaix.

Image of cyclist on cobblestones

It was damp at the start, but when the Czech rider Lubos Lom attacked on the outskirts of town it started to snow. He ploughed on, clearing the road for a nervous peloton, building a 14-minute lead by the first stretch of pavé at Troisvilles.

By then, though, things were warming up behind, and Lom was suffering. He stopped at the Solesmes feed station with cramp, had a quick rub and a warm drink, then got going again. It wasn’t long before the peloton had him.

There was a lull when the group caught Lom, then the race exploded. Seventeen riders dragged themselves clear. Among them the big hitters; Andre Tchmil, Roubaix winner for the previous two years Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, Johan Museeuw and Sean Yates, who was riding for the American Motorola team and had been shaping up to do something in this race for a while.

Image of Sean Yates
                                                                                            Sean Yates


Tchmil battered the terrible cobbles in Arenberg Forest, riding right down the middle of the road, the only way when it’s wet, while around and behind him the rest slipped and slid and fought as best they could. Inevitably there were crashes, and when the break emerged from the trees it was spread over two minutes.

Image of cyclists on cobbles stones
                                                                                                   Tchmil bosses the Arenberg cobbles

Fragmentation persisted for a while, everybody chasing everybody else until a big group formed at the front just before Orchies. It was too big, hostilities ended while the riders took stock, then the attacks started again.

Franco Ballerini was the most aggressive, spreading panic every time he went. The group slowly broke up under the Italian’s pressure; riders shelled in ones and twos at first, then in bigger splits.

Ballerini kept going until one man, Andre Tchmil was left, but that was Tchmil just starting. He was super strong, having a day of grace in the heart of Hell. Just before the Ennetières cobbles, which were deep in mud, Tchmil attacked and blew Ballerini’s doors off.

Ballerini and Duclos-Lasalle joined up behind, but both punctured. That left Johan Museeuw chasing alone, but everyone was tired apart from Tchmil. Museeuw folded, dropping back to a small group that included Sean Yates. They became the chasers, but it was hopeless.

Image of cyclists
                                                                                                           Yates leads the chase

Tchmil had gone, it was all over. He thundered through what remained of the race while the rest managed the best they could. Tchmil made it onto the slick wet concrete of the Roubaix Velodrome without missing a beat, and a lap and a half later the Queen of Classics had its first East European winner.

Image of cyclist


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