Road feel

The 11 riders in the finale of this year’s Paris-Roubaix were all exceptional cyclists whose faces were so cracked and lined with sweat and dust that a fortune teller could have read their fates like a dying man’s palm.

This is a race notorious for the toll it takes on men and machines. So grueling is the 257-kilometer course that a team director must use every known technological trick available in order to better insulate his racers from the bone-shaking suffering on the cobblestones of Northern France.

Yet in this year’s winning break, two of the riders appeared to be racing without gloves, usually the first-line of defense in the 111-year old running battle against the pave. One such rider was John Degenkolb, riding for Team Giant-Shimano. The other was Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Tom Boonen.

This is a race Boonen was destined to win again and again. He has four times, though he came up short this year when his teammate soloed to the line. There are riders whose relationships with certain races, the terrain or the climate, are as profound as a marriage. It would be hard to find a cyclist, professional or amateur, who is not secretly wracked with a kind of jealousy over Roubaix’s regular embrace of Boonen.