With the body of a power lifter, Walter Godefroot takes the lead. The wind blows back his gritty hair and exposes his tan forehead as he rattles over the cobbles at a great speed. “Now it’s his turn to force the pace so that it hurts,” the narrator says. “Godefroot, the former winner Paris-Roubaix, seems in good form, and he’s riding very well. With his smooth, powerful technique, he’s an expert in this terrain. He’s not nicknamed the ’Bulldog of Flanders’ for nothing.”
Welcome back to “A Sunday in Hell.” Every Sunday, we try to review a scene or two from one of the best documentaries about our beautiful but cruel sport. We’re getting close to the finish of the Paris-Roubaix classic in 1976. Last week, we re-witnessed Freddy Maertens crash out of the race.
Today, we pick up the action with Godefroot at a crucial moment in the race. It’s when Eddy Merckx miscalculates or weakens and misses a decisive breakaway. First, we see a wonderful close-up, slow-motion shot of Godefroot riding in his drops, grinding away over the pave . The watch on his wrist is jiggling from all the intense vibration from the pounding by the primitive stones. Then the camera quickly pulls back and we get a big picture of how the race is developing. Godefroot is not alone.
“Suddenly it happens. Four men have broken away. Godefroot, DeMayer, De Vlaeminck and Kuiper,” the narrator says. “De Vlaeminck looks back and proceeds to increase the speed even more. Notice Demeyer tucked into De Vlaeminck’s slipstream. He’s riding for himself now. The crash by his captain, Maertens, has released him from all obligations.”
This image came up in a search for a Moser photo, but I think it's actually Beppe Saroni. I decided to keep it anyway because it's such a great picture.
About 200 yards behind, there’s a chase group of two French riders, including our old friend Raymond Poulidor. The Frenchmen are riding side by side with barely enough room for another cyclist to fit between them. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, a rider rockets in between them and flies up the road. The narrator identifies him: “It’s Francesco Moser, with his distinctive style. His still, aerodynamic position on the bicycle is an imposing sight of almost effortless rotary action.”
Moser is in his drops with his nose almost touching his front wheel as he powers away from Poulidor, who seemingly can’t hold his wheel for even a second. Moser bridges the gap, making it five men in the leading group. But wait a minute, Godefroot punctures! From an aerial shot, we see him take his right foot off the pedal and slow down as he rounds a bend. The rest of the group speeds off. A cruel sport, indeed.
The camera moves back to Merckx, who is in serious trouble now. ”Merckx unaccountably wasn’t there when (the break) happened,” the narrator said, “but naturally, he’s leading the pursuit.”
In 2005, Cycle Sport devoted its entire January edition to Eddy Merckx, and it features some great interviews and anecdotes. Some of the most interesting were about the rivalries between Merckx and other Belgian greats, like De Vlaeminck and Godefroot.
De Vlaeminck was quoted as saying his rivalry with the Cannibal was largely built up by the media and fans. He said he admires Merckx and even named his son “Eddy.” But he added, “Merckx made his marriage vows in French, and that angered people in Flanders. I became their champion because of it. I am Flemish through and through, and I won’t even speak French.”
Posted: January 16th, 2011 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", Francesco Moser, Freddy Maertens, Godefroot, Paris-Roubaix, Roger DeVlaeminck | No Comments »
At Waffles & Steel, we’ve been spending the past year or so reliving the 1976 Paris-Roubaix classic, as masterfully documented by the film “A Sunday in Hell.”
We’re getting close to the finish – just 22 miles away. The lead bunch has been reduced to 25, with all the big names of that fantastic cycling era positioning themselves for a decisive move. Earlier, Eddy Merckx used a monster effort to devastate the field with no success. Eddy is a bit past his prime and not as dominant as he used to be.
The narrator says, “Freddy Maertens, his teammate Marc Demeyer and (Walter) Godefroot are at the front. Merckx has stopped trying to split the field.”
They’re jackhammering over a narrow cobbled primitive road that cuts through a farm field. Finally, they reach a section of modern pavement, and most of the riders get out of the saddle for a surge on the smooth surface – a great relief after the severe pave pounding.
Oh no! There’s another crash! It will serve as foreshadowing for another awful event that will develop soon. But this time, one of the victims is the great Belgian cyclist Walter Planckaert. He’s sprawled out – his legs in the street, the curve of his back on the curb and his torso on a grass strip off the road. He’s not moving. His bike is trashed, with one wheel bent into a taco shape, the tubular half off the rim like a limp black snake.
After a brief lament about losing Planckaert, the narrator returns to the front: “Up here, the battle is coming to a boil. Every other second the rhythm is broken by someone trying to break away. All the favorites are active now and have put themselves at the front of the field.”
He continues: ”DeVlaeminck, Demeyer, Godefroot, Maertens. … They keep a sharp eye on each other. Maertens takes the lead. But off to the right, DeVlaeminck suddenly attacks. Way out on the side of the road, he pedals away in a new attempt to get free. Moser is the first to react, then Maertens. This time they know it’s do or die.”
They catch DeVlaeminck and we lose sight of the bunch as they round a corner on a spectator-lined road through a small town. But as we clear the corner, we see it. It’s a crash! Someone is down! It’s Freddy Maertens!
He’s on his side, screaming in pain as he moves his body. When he’s helped to his feet, he immediately doubles over. He’s finished, out of the race. There’s a touching moment when he’s ushered into the white doctor’s car. Before he gets in, he stops to watch a mechanic pick up his bike and load it on top of a team car. In a time of personal tragedy, he still wants to be sure his ride is being handled properly, even though didn’t have to spend an entire month’s salary to buy it.
The narrator says, “Maertens sadly ends the race as a passenger in the doctor’s car.”
Posted: January 9th, 2011 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", De Vlaeminck, Demeyer, Eddy Merckx, Francesco Moser, Godefroot, Paris-Roubaix, Roger DeVlaeminck | No Comments »
Welcome to the weekly revisit of “A Sunday in Hell,” a fantastic documentary about the 1976 Paris-Roubaix classic. This week, we see a paceline of cyclists barrelling over a brutal stretch of pave that cuts through a farm field. They’re actually riding on a thin ribbon of packed dirt on the road’s shoulder, sparing themselves the jarring, torturous experience of riding over the medieval stones better suited for ox carts and hooved ungulates than thin bicycle wheels.
The narrator explains that with only about two hours left in the race, the riders are going crazy fast now. It’s hard to hang on to the wheel in front of you. Then he names the leaders. It’s a list that sends a chill up the spine. ”Maertens, Demeyer, Dierickx, Godefroot, De Vlaeminck and Merckx leading,” he says. “Merckx tries to break the others with his tremendous power.” They were all part of a Golden Age in cycling. I planned to say a bit more about these guys, but I’m not. For those who know them, nothing more needs to be said. We just bow our heads and let ourselves be overcome with nostalgia. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about: I can’t help you. Please go off and do your homework.
Posted: November 21st, 2010 | Author: wafflesandsteel | Filed under: "A Sunday in Hell", De Vlaeminck, Demeyer, Freddy Maertens, Godefroot, Paris-Roubaix | No Comments »