The Hell of the … South

A wonderful find, by way of Marie:

First, this: An account of a cycling road race, the Hillsboro Roubaix, in what I’d call south-central Illinois. It’s a big state, and it’s full of stuff I’ve never heard of or dreamed existed. Just a few items that come to mind from the last several years: the car ferries on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers; the grave of Mother Jones; the national cemetery, mostly for Civil War dead, down at hardscrabble Mound City; the beautifully massive and useless flood gate in the levee at beaten-down Cairo, just a few miles from the cemetery.

Anyway, Hillsboro is said to be about 50 miles south of Springfield. It’s apparently in a hilly area, and the town itself still has some rough cobbled streets. The name of the race, the Hillsboro Roubaix, is a reference and tribute to one of the greatest of the classic spring races in Europe, Paris-Roubaix. The race’s most notable feature, as illustrated in the stirring documentary “A Sunday in Hell,” is its route across sections of ancient cobblestone roads across the countryside of northern France and Belgium. “Cobblestones” doesn’t do the riding surface justice: the pavement consists of big, rough-hewn stones, thick with dirt and choking dust if dry or slick with mud if wet. I’ve never ridden there, but the race looks punishing and treacherous and usually features a slew of hard, harrowing crashes. Tradition tags Paris-Roubaix “the hell of the north.”

The account of this year’s Hillsboro Roubaix I linked to above is from a racer named Luke Seemann, who lives in Chicago. It’s a beautiful narrative on the course and a nice look at competitive road-racing tactics. Luke came in 11th in a tough race. Bravo on the result and on the write-up (a couple more excellent race accounts to check out from Mr. Seemann: from the 2006 Snake Alley Criterium (Burlington, Iowa) and the ’06 Baraboo (Wisconsin) road race).

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