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This article was originally published in the May 8, 1981, issue of VeloNews.
Battered, bruised and bespattered, brilliant Bernard Hinault won the Paris-Roubaix classic April 12. He did it in front of Roger De Vlaeminck and Francesco Moser, two men whose names stand well to the fore in the list of previous winners.
But it might so easily not have been. Just miles from the end, Hinault was chasing furiously after fellow Frenchman Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle when a dog ran out and sent him crashing to the cobbles. Hinault jumped back on, caught and eventually passed Duclos-Lassalle, by then shattered beyond repair. The world champion then formed a big-hitting front group with De Vlaeminck, Moser, and a fourth man from the sun, Cattaneo.
Dutchman Hennie Kuiper was there, too, but for reasons you’ll discover later, there was no chance he would win. He had a big debt to pay to De Vlaeminck, his teammate at Daf, and he was determined to get him across the line first on Roubaix municipal velodrome.
It didn’t work. Despite giving De Vlaeminck as much of an armchair ride as anyone can get on the awful cobbles of the Hell of the North, nobody had an answer to the unstoppable Hinault.
There was nothing in it for the Americans. Like so many others, they fell victim to this cruelest of classics. “Greg was just exhausted,” said his wife Kathy the next day, while loyal professional LeMond was out training. “He quit after 220 kilometers after working for the team.”
There was nothing for the Yanks, either, in Ghent-Wevelgem, the classic held four days earlier. The two Renault/Gitane Americans had been on the wrong side of a vital move on the first climb of the vicious Kemmelberg, a hill which only the biggest stars can race up — rather than struggle up. The victory went to Jan Raas and again De Vlaeminck was second. LeMond and Boyer finished unnoticed — by the judges at any rate — in the third bunch.
Raas was still smarting from embarrassing defeat in his home country’s classic, the Amstel Gold Race, April 2. After four victories in as many years, the Dutch were beginning to call their professional classic the “Amstel Gold Raas,” and you couldn’t have got good odds on him anywhere in the country before the start.
The bunch came together on the last miles into the finish. Raas’s hopes were cloud-high, but it was Ferdi van den Haute and then Hinault who led out, with Raas on his wheel.
Inexplicably, the Dutchman switched all the way across the road to get past the world champion. He went so far over that he accomplished nothing more than let all the rest through. Realizing his mistake, Raas sat up with 50 meters to go and watched the rainbow jersey fling his arm into the air.
It was another Dutchman who succeeded in the Tour of Flanders three days later. And it wasn’t one that anybody expected. Hennie Kuiper was world champion about seven years ago and, apart from some respectable stage race performances, he hadn’t done a lot since. But weeping, smiling, and waving his arms in the air, he crossed the line with about a one-minute lead over Frits Pirard and Raas to win his first classic in years.
And it was for this reason that Kuiper was anxious to help De Vlaeminck in Paris-Roubaix.
You see, Kuiper slipped away from a break that had formed an hour before, once again on the climbs around the Kemmelberg. He took advantage of a moment’s lull, and before anybody reacted, he had 50 meters. De Vlaeminck protected him selflessly and withstood counterattacks by men like Fons De Wolf, Jan Raas, and super-sprinter Sean Kelly.