The Paris-Roubaix bicycle race, nicknamed "The Hell of the North," is famous for sending riders over brutal cobblestone roads. Only the strong, brave and lucky survive the hours of bone-shaking racing without suffering some mishap or catastrophe. It is so difficult no one wins it by accident, and winning Paris-Roubaix automatically puts a rider among the immortals of the sport. Why did Paris-Roubaix emerge to be such a special race? Les Woodland tells the inside story of one of cycling's classics.
"Hell of the North!"
The Tour de France is the greatest bike race in the world, but it began as a humble promotional gimmick for a floundering newspaper. More than 100 years later, the Tour still captivates the world and is broadcast to over 180 countries. How did a few men looking for some way to save their struggling business become masters of a giant, successful enterprise? Les Woodland tells the inside story of the Tour de France through the prism of the men who started it, and those who now run it.
"Decent story, terrible narration"
When more than 100 men or women go racing down a road, inches away from each other, in all weather, over all kinds of roads, the opportunity for a brilliant win or a terrible accident is always there. For more than a century, bicycle racers have sought glory, but have often found only misery. There can be only one winner, and even that triumph can be mixed with terrible loss. Fausto Coppi, coached by a blind man, set the World Hour Record in Milan during the war while the city was being shattered by bombs.
Professional cycling has been around for more than 100 years, more than enough time for nearly anything imaginable to have happened. Whether it's the Tour de France racer who thought the worst thing that could happen to him was being forced to wear the Yellow Jersey, or the communist team director who insisted, on a whim, that a rider have a toe amputated or the fit of jealousy that started the Giro d'Italia, the sport has an endless supply of examples of human folly.
Les Woodland climbed aboard his old Carlton bike to take a nostalgia trip across Belgium and Holland to visit some of cycling's greatest riders. Cycling Heroes: The Golden Years tells the story of that journey he took in the early 1990s and the time he spent with some of the finest riders from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.
Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger) is the motto of the International Olympic Committee. After listening to Les Woodland's The Olympics' 50 Craziest Stories the listener might wonder if the motto should be Sillier, Loonier, Crazier.
The Tour of Flanders is Belgium's most brutal day in the saddle. The bike-crazed Flemish don't just send riders over cobblestone roads. Nor are they content to break the racers' legs with nearly 20 steep hills. No, the worst of all cycling worlds meet in Flanders with narrow, vertical roads paved with slippery, dangerous cobbles. The hills are so steep they are called "muurs", or walls, and they come one after another, for hours, until the riders are shattered with exhaustion. The Tour of Flanders is so fiendishly difficult that the man who wins it earns everlasting fame.