Top 20 All Time Major Classics #7
Paris-Roubaix 1994: In the Muck and Mire
“Brutal!” was the collective description of the 1994 Paris-Roubaix bicycle race. This Queen of the Classics is known as a battle for survival in the 'Hell of the North'. On a good day just to finish is an accomplishment, but when the weather conditions turn ugly Paris-Roubaix becomes absolutely brutal. The rainy weather during the month leading up to P-R 1994 made for the worst racing conditions in 25 years.
Two-time defending champion Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, riding in his 16th P-R classic, led the 191 starters from Compiegne under a frigid and a torrential downpour. The rain changed to snow 14 km into the race and gave Czech rider Lubos Lom the opportunity to escape the peloton. Entering the first section of cobbles at Troisvilles Lom held a commanding 14 minute lead on the cautious peloton.
The strain of the early attack began to show at the feed zone in Solesmes, 90 km from Roubaix with the toughest cobbled sections yet to come. Cramping and the cold temperatures forced the lone leader to stop for assistance. Several cobbled sections later Lom's cadence began to slow. The charging peloton had come to life and had closed the gap to 45 seconds.
As the peloton captured Lom the race began in earnest. The heavy rains had turned to sunshine but the roads were still very wet. An elite selection was made in the infamous cobbles of the Arenberg Forest. The wet and muddy cobbles reeked havoc in the bunch. After several large crashes in the pack Duclos-Lassalle suffered a puncture and lost contact with the leaders. Exiting the Forest five riders were clear.
Duclos-Lasalle and relative newcomer Andrei Tchmil chased and joined the lead group. After a series of unsuccessful attacks Tchmil executed a perfect acceleration with 63 km to go and rode steadily away.
The final sections of cobbles was covered with deep and soupy mud with Tchmil turneing a strong cadence. Luck was with the Moldavian when Franco Ballerini and Duclos-Lasalle punctured at the same time on the cobbled section at Ennevelin. Only Belgian Johann Museeuw could close on Tchmil. With Tchmil in sight a broken chain only 16 km from the finish stopped his chase.
Totally inspired, the mud crusted Tchmil rode on like so many of the legendary champions who have won this race. Nothing could break his focus. A policeman waiting for the great man to arrive at ‘his traffic island' dutifully cleared the road for Tchmil to circumnavigate. Knowing that the quickest way between two points is a straight line Tchmil ‘bunny hopped' onto the traffic island, rode straight over the top and down the other side as though nothing was there. Tchmil was ‘home free'.
As Tchmil closed on the Roubaix velodrome finish a heavy rain returned. Covered in mud and drenched to the bone Moldavian Andrei Tchmil crossed the finish line to become the first Eastern Bloc rider to win the prestigious Paris-Roubaix.
SPECIAL NOTE: Over the years Andrei Tchmil became one of the great riders of the Northern Classics. The fans adopted them as one of their own. Tchmil eventually became a true ‘flahute' when he became a naturalized citizen of Belgium.
P-R April 10, 1994
279 Km Compiegne to Roubaix Velodrome
1. Andrei TCHMIL (Mol) 7h28'02”
2. Fabio Baldato (Ita) +1'13”
3. Franco Ballerini (Ita)
Average Speed: 36.160 km/h
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