BY JERED AND ASHLEY GRUBER



2020 will forever be a year that everyone the world over will remember - for everything that did happen, but also for what didn’t happen. In the tiny, insignificant world of cycling (we are talking about a global pandemic here), despite the success of the restart of the season, scores of races were cancelled. Of all of those lost races, no race was missed more than Paris-Roubaix.

We were set to shoot the race for the tenth time (time really does fly), but instead, that work day turned into our chance to ride Roubaix on October 24, 2020: the day before the race should have happened. We started with the first sector in Troisvilles - then followed the route of the year that was not - all the way to Roubaix. 172 kilometers. It was our chance to pay our respects to the Queen.

We thought about what wasn’t happening as much as what was happening that day. It was impossible not to imagine the fleeting apparitions of the ghosts that never were. Would it have been another clash of the two titans of 2020 - Van Aert vs. Van Der Poel? Would an outsider have snuck in? It would have been a remarkable Paris-Roubaix: autumn, muddy, rain - with brief moments of golden fall light. It would have been the first wet Roubaix since 2002. It would have been the Roubaix we as cycling fans have long dreamed of - for better or worse.











We found that the Roubaix of dreams was not something to take lightly. We found conditions on the course that would have made for nightmares for years to come for poor riders subjected to those stunningly slick cobblestones at race speeds. It would have been utter chaos at times. Most of the time.










The hole left on that Sunday allowed me to find my own love of Roubaix though. If it had been a normal year, I would have worked all around those days, just trying to get by and keep up. Instead, we had a chance to spend time there, to find what I’ve always been looking for at Roubaix: the magic.

I found it on the Roubaix cobblestones on that Saturday at the end of October. The faintest glimmerings of that sparkle that makes Roubaix the race of dreams (and nightmares - and both at the same time) for so many were there from the beginning.









But it was after that final left turn in that lonely field of the Carrefour de l’Arbre that the ghosts of Roubaix past found me.

I’m in that turn with my friend, Michael, on my wheel - long ago 100% exhausted and legs heading close to the cliff of complete failure with still 16k to go. I see that famous cafe in the murky distance - an improbable forever kilometer away, I feel the energy and cheers of crowds past, I remember all those moments on the Carrefour watching our modern heroes defy limits: Boonen, Cancellara, Vansummeren, Vanmarcke, Hayman, Terpstra, Gilbert, Sagan, Stannard, Boasson Hagen, and I too am somehow going as hard as my little motor will allow. I too marvel at just how slowly that cafe grows in size - completely unmoored from time.











Faster, faster, just a little farther, don’t ease up until that hard right turn on pavement.

I think about how Johan Vansummeren once said he didn't feel the cobbles of the Carrefour at all the day he held the cobblestone trophy above his head. I think about that as I jackhammer my way down that narrow road in slow-motion.

I think I feel all the ones he didn't that day - plus the normal ones beneath my wheels.

I’m not soaring above them - I’m riding directly through each cobblestone - splitting each one in half.

Just a little bit more.

How is it possible for my biceps to hurt so much?

Just a little bit more.

Is it possible for my hands to hurt any worse?

Just a little bit more.

I’m long past pedaling squares. I’m pedaling bow-legged. In triangles. Searching desperately for a spare bit of coal for the engine.

Just a little bit more.

And then the suffering of my real body fades for just a moment, the cheers grow louder, it's a tunnel of noise around me, the cobbles smooth in my waking dream, and I’m chasing Vansummeren’s ghost, my own ghosts, and then we hit pavement, Michael looks over, breathing hard, shakes his head, “You crazy bastard.”

Arms locked out, head below my shoulders, I laugh and smile and heave for breath all at the same time. I don’t know what got into me. It just happened. There was no reason to go hard there. None at all.

There was that tailwind of history ripping through that evening though. I bet it’s there most days. And who can argue with that?

Ten seconds later, we hit the Gruson cobbles.