Paris – Roubaix: Felice Gimondi

Paris – Roubaix, 1966. It was cold on the 17th of April. The north of France was covered in dark clouds that day. Now and then it was raining. At the start in Chantilly 134 riders were shivering in the rain and cursed themselves for starting in this race in that weather. The favorites for the win were Van Looy, Janssen, Godefroot, Planckaert and Poulidor. Throughout the day the weather did not get any better. At some point it was even snowing. In the end, a group with all the favorites remained. With 35 kilometres to go, a young rider from Italy looked around and thought that he had no chance when he would ride with them to the finish line in Roubaix. It was Felice Gimondi. He accelerated for a few seconds, turned his head and noticed that there was no one in his wheel. He accelerated more. For a long time his eyes were fixed on the horizon. On the cobbled roads he smoothly avoided the rain puddles next to and on the road. With seven kilometres to go he got nervous. He turned his head. He only saw cars and motorcycles. There was not one single rider there. After 100 metres or so he turned his head again. He could not believe that this was really happening. He tried to keep the same high rhythm. It was as if the devil himself was chasing him. He still was afraid that the others would come back. He had no idea that he was leading the race with a time difference of four minutes on the others.  It was not until he reached the course of Roubaix that he started to believe that he was actually going to win his first Spring Classic. The crowd in Roubaix was standing up for him and they clapped as hard as they could. He crossed the finish line with a smile and lifted his two arms up in the air. It was a brilliant race. A solo of 35 kilometres. Only 57 other riders made it to the finish. It was a tough, long day. Still, Felice Gimondi kept smiling for a long time after the race. He had a right to do so. At the age of 23, he became the winner of the ‘hell of the North’.

1966: Italian cyclist Felice Gimondi throws up his arms in celebration after crossing the line to win the Paris-Roubaix one day race. Mandatory Credit: Allsport Hulton/Archive
© Allsport Hulton/Archive

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