In 1997, Frédéric Guesdon took part in his very last Paris-Roubaix. This race he competed 17 times – and won at 25 – defined his career. He retells his final dance in Hell.

In early 2012, I crashed in the Tour Down Under and broke my hip. Logically, it was then three months off, which meant the end of my career knowing that it was decided that I would retire in Paris-Roubaix. It had been a big blow. But back in France, the doctors told me that it might be doable, that we had to try anyway. I had nothing to lose, quite the opposite. I could only have a nice surprise by trying to come back. I fought against the clock because the timing was tight and I managed to resume in Nokere Koerse, a month before Paris-Roubaix, and it worked out. I was able to be at the start as I hoped for.

But the race itself did not go very well. I was caught behind a crash a bit before Haveluy. The peloton split and I was in the second part. Then I punctured in Denain. The cars were already gone and I thought it was the end of my career. Eventually, that was the broom wagon that helped me out and gave me a wheel. Afterwards, when I got to the Carrefour de l’Arbre, I told myself: “This is the last time you can do it in these conditions, full gas and with speed”. So I gave my all and got away with the late Kristof Goddaert. We finished together and he let me do my last lap on the velodrome.

I wasn’t going to stop on the side of the road that day and get into the broom wagon! It was my last ride and I wanted to see the velodrome one last time. I had the chance to win this race at a very young age. I am aware of the popularity it has brought me. Then, the love of cycling and races like Paris-Roubaix has kept me going over the years. Also, when you won it once, you think “why not a second time?”. I was putting some pressure on myself because I really wanted to succeed. In the end, I just have regrets over the 2011 edition, when Vansummeren wins. I broke away with ten other underdogs after Arenberg. Unfortunately I punctured at Cysoing and I’m a bit to blame for it. It’s my only regret: I had the legs to finish, at least, on the podium.