The year was 1993, Paris-Roubaix, France.
Franco Ballerini was riding a like a man possessed with such grit and determination that all anyone could do was latch onto his rear wheel and hang on for dear life. He exuded a superhuman-like aura of complete dominance. And with this supreme confidence, it seemed Ballerini was powering toward a stunning victory, his first, in the incomparable L'enfer du Nord. It looked as if he could beat anybody that day, living or dead. Anybody, save one: Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, smiter of Gods.
At 39, Duclos-Lassalle was the grand old man of the peloton. He was racing with guys half his age and showing them that they still had to wash behind their ears because they were naive little bastards. Duclos had nearly 15 years of suffering on most of these hotshot noobs, and if a neo-pro didn't salute him as they crossed paths, ten thousand push ups in molten lava would have been lenient. For Gilbert was a tough as nails Frenchman that could will entire empires to eat "Freedom Fries" with their assholes just by blinking. Limbaugh cowered.
"Gibus" had been racing professionally since 1977 and didn't fall into the sad pattern of old pros whose glory days were long behind them. He was supremely unique in that he actually improved with age. I remember reading an interview with Duclos in the early nineties that spelled out his weekly training schedule. It went something like this:
Monday - Motorpace 5 hours
Tuesday - Motorpace 5 hours
Wednesday - Motorpace 5 hours
Thursday - Motorpace 5 hours
Friday - Motorpace 5 hours
Hard old man indeed. Even diamonds were jealous.
On that day in 1993, Duclos outfoxed Ballerini with a show of spectacular patience, determination, and cunning explosiveness. Whether out of hubris or desperation, Franco had done nearly all the work in the breakaway and failed to recognize that Gibus' skills on the track were as legendary as his longevity. Some say it was Duclos' very hand that had reached out of the sky and maneuvered Franco Ballerini to do his bidding. Regardless, Duclos claimed his second consecutive cobblestone trophy in a photo finish that Ballerini initially celebrated as a victory of his own. It was a devastating mistake that played out in dramatic fashion on the public stage before millions of ebullient spectators. Duclos ascended to the ranks of the immortal on that crisp, spring day.
Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, you deserve some Mad ol' Props. We salute you.