Andrea Tafi: Paris Roubaix

Diesel <> Volvo <> Belgium <> A Story about a story

A series of photos <>Well Captioned <> A story of unlikely events that led us to Mr. Paris Roubaix <> A Prequel.

Morning in Belgium. This might be the first thing you see in Brussels: a yellow Ford. It is covered in dirt. Someone is paying 135 Euros a month to store this vestige of their youth. This marker, a beacon of the first thing you remember seeing in the morning, stays with you all day. No matter that it has not been driven in 14 months. You know what it means to its owner. It is early, 6AM, and the Heroes are off to sign in for the Rapha/ASO Paris-Roubaix Sportive.

Look 585. Repainted by Joe Bell. Its Amish lug and tube construction speaks of log cabins, rivets, draw bridges and three course bricks. “JB, the Heroes want you to paint a bike for us. It will be called Le Ramrod. We are going to ride the Paris-Roubaix Sportive!” Like a great plains cowboy, he responds in an expertly drawn monotone, “When do you need it by?…be honest!” “March, we need it by March!” Months later, we build it on a picnic table near Ghent. We have six hours to drive down to France to register.

Who is this man? Why are the Heroes in someone’s car? We are being towed to a garage. Our Volvo rental has suffered a self inflicted wound. “Stupid Heroes! You put regular gas in your diesel engine!” We imagine this being said by the sneering Gollom/Smeagol: “Stupid Hobbits!” No mind, No panic. The man driving asks three questions, “Speak Flemish? Speak French? Who will win Paris-Roubaix on Sunday?” We offer Fabian’s name. “Yes Boonen is over, Boonen is over, Boonen is over, Fabian will win.”

This is the garage we are towed to in Deinze, Belgium. Its owner wanted to show us his passion before he drained our tank full of gas. “I fix them. I rent them. I love them.” Imagine a white Cadillac driving around Deinze. Lets be honest, outside of Deinze it is flat, flat Flemish farmland. You cannot escape the excrement of sheep, goats, cows. It fills your nostrils. It wakes you up at night. It is quiet. John Deere tractors are the only thing that own the road. Unless of course you call Autobedrijf Schepens and rent one of his white 30 foot long Cadillacs.

This boy asks how we managed to put diesel in our car. We just laugh. He laughs. This boy is capping off his two week internship from his schooling to work on cars. No money, just experience. I want to be a mechanic. Do you like cycling? No, football. I love football. Cycling is ok.

So every day he rides his bike from outside Ghent to the mechanic in Deinze which is also outside Ghent. He lives with his mom, or maybe his father, or maybe with both of them. We are not sure or maybe we are imagining something we forgot. Ghent is not far. He wishes he could work a bit longer. You know school sucks. He wants a motorcycle, or at least a scooter to get to work.

This is what the pump looks like draining your car of all the gas you put in the tank and all the diesel that remains in your fuel line. Everything has to be removed. 150 Euros…150 Euros. It is painful to hand it over but it seems cheap when thinking of trashing the engine. It takes hours to drain litre after litre, because you have to draw the fuel out through a tube the size of a Slurpee straw. We re-fill it full of diesel, it takes 20 minutes for the car to turn over. We are tense and not sure we can make the sign in for the sportive…”Gentlemen, I know you are having a shitty day. My friend is hosting Roger de Vlaeminck for drinks tomorrow night at his bike shop. Stop by and say hello and forget about this day.”

This is the first thing we see in the shop. Lance in Cofidis kit. It is actually in the bar that is in the shop. We write about this night in greater detail. However, this poster is the first thing we notice. Cofidis is near the end for Lance and near the beginning for another Lance. Can you imagine Armstrong winning the Tour in a Cofidis jersey? Lance winning the Tour on a Fondriest? No Trek, No US Postal, No Big George. Roger de Vlaeminck is sitting 4 feet away. He is checking his phone, texting. He is signing books. We raise our glasses. He smiles.

This our bar tab. We drank too much beer. Roger warned us. We are drunk. We are standing in a bar, in a bike shop and we are tipping beers over. We are stupid again. Pouring gas in already filled tanks. We signed a petition to keep the Ronde in Ninove. They lost. It will finish in Oudenaarde.

This is Andrea Tafi. He also rode the Paris-Roubaix Sportive. His last Paris-Roubaix was for Bjarne Riis* we think, maybe on a covertly painted C40 when he should have been riding a Cervelo. This we remember! He gives a bit of a shout as he steps off his bike. I need a beer! I need a beer! Smiling! How many hours since that yellow Ford in Brussels? How many hours since we filled our diesel wagon with regular gas? How many hours since we were towed? How many hours since we raised our glasses to Roger? Twenty, 24 or 36 maybe.

* Actually Saunier Duval