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A Bumpy Road for Riding

April 5, 2009

Here is a ten-minute excerpt from Jørgen Leth’s 1976 documentary “A Sunday in Hell”. Its subject is the toughest road race in professional cycling, the Paris-Roubaix, and this film demonstrates exemplary cinematography and soundtrack. The pedal notes used to accompany the commentary give it a fatalistic mood that well serves such a gritty ordeal of a race. Cyclists featured include some of the top riders of the time, such as Eddy Merckx, Roger de Vlaeminck, and Francesco Moser.

The race takes place largely over old cobbled roads in the north east of France, which are a nightmare to ride on, thus it is called “l’Infern du Nord” – the Hell of the North. Bumpy always, dusty when dry and ultra-slippery when wet, these roads are “no longer used for ordinary, civilised traffic, but only for the driving of cattle – and for a bicycle race.” This legendary course is discussed more in another part of the same film:

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