Love is Hell. Paris-Roubaix winner proposes at velodrome.

Johan Van Summeren, professional cyclist, hopeless romantic.

You’re in love and spring has sprung in Northern France, it’s Paris-Roubaix, the queen of the classics and you’re flying over the cobblestones.

You hardly feel a thing, not the pain and suffering, the inevitable crash, the dust and bone-breaking stones. You float over the treacherous Forest of Arenberg where Tom Boonen loses two minutes and all hope. You rip across the Carrefour de l’Arbre were dreams of glory die barely feeling a thing except the mad beating of your love struck heart.

Over the cobblestones you roll, a song in your heart. Look at the beautiful wild flowers alongside the roads! You’re practicing your speech — should you get down on one knee — no, after six brutal hours in the saddle and 258 kilometers your legs might cramp. Better propose standing up.

Fabian Cancellara, the Superman, the Swiss gladiator, can’t catch you. Boonen is gone, Pozzato is in the broom wagon, Alessandro Ballan is stuck behind, Chavanel is nursing his wounds and you, you are on your way to the Velodrome of Love.

The Hell of the North is your personal Valentines’s Day, you’re ready to pop the question. She’s waiting there for you, your girl of seven years, Jasmine Vangrieken. She’s been with you through thick and thin and now Hell feels like Heavan.

You’ve picked out the biggest rock a woman has ever received, bigger than the Hope Diamond, bigger than the 62 carat rock Richard Burton gave Elizabeth Taylor. The thing weights over 30 pounds!

You tick down the most dangerous sectors one by one — Quievy, Haveluy, Arenberg, Wallers, Mons-en-Pévèle, Cysoing - Bourghelles, Carrefour de l’Abre — should you stop and get flowers — is there time? No, not with this flat tire.

Here it is, the last ceremonial stretch of cooblestone, the Chemin des Géants — Road of the Giants. You’ve got goosebump, whole body trembling with excitment and determination.

The final right turn and into the roar of the velodrome, the finish line and her arms. You’re both crazy in love as she kisses the sweat and slimy dirt-mud off your face. You pop the question in a scrum of photographers and media.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Yes, you won Paris-Roubaix, you’re engaged, you’re the double happiest man in the world.

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  • Henkio

    Lovely article Matt. I can't wait for the hour long documentary Belgian TV will inevitably do for this race in 15 years or so.

  • Jason Crawford

    Really I think Johan was figuring, dang marriage can't be any harder than riding over the pave for the last six hours so I might as well pull the trigger (not the Alberto trigger finger though).

    Deep in my heart I wanted to see Fabulous Fabian repeat but at the end of the day I'm happy Thor didn't win. After seeing Nick Nuyens riding wheels only to win at the sprint in Flanders, I'm content with seeing Johan who laid it all on the line win in a remarkable fashion. To me there's no honor in drafting for 40K only to nip someone at the line.

    I can't believe the Flemish Belgiums pulled out two monumental victories in Flanders and Roubaix. I can only hope that Gilbert can do the Wallons proud in Fleche Wallon or L-B-L.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Heidi-Marie-Moser/1684263326 Heidi Marie Moser

    Very nice piece here, Matt. Van Summeren's "win-win" was a cycling fairy tale come to life! And Fabian's final attack for second was a sight to behold!! A beautiful race indeed!

    I totally agree with Jason re. wheel sucking for 40K and stealing the victory from someone who has rode their balls off, btw!

  • http://www.atwistedspoke.com TwistedSpoke

    Thanks Heidi. tactically it's not always pretty or noble to sit on Cancellara's wheel but it does make strategic sense and given how badly he killed everyone last year and in E3, nobody wanted a repeat of that. He was the strongest rider but they had a plan for superman. Matt