You were 37 years old in 1992 when you first won Paris-Roubaix after twice finishing second. How did that victory change your life?
Before winning I had already collected quite a few good placings in this race—in all, I must have been in the top 10, 12 times, out of 17 participations. I was riding with all my soul after this victory, it is true, but I came so close to achieving it so many times that my victory was not a radical upheaval. For me it was part of a logic of progression, and the tenacious aim of a goal. Previously I had made some youthful mistakes, like the time I finished second behind Francesco Moser. With Paris-Roubaix, I was in a kind of known place. When you start a career, some races appeal to you more than others. I loved Paris-Roubaix from my first experience: I found it astonishing. In the showers after the finish—I was ranked 25th, but I had finished, and Jean-Pierre Danguillaume told me: there, you have arrived in the big league.
How different was the experience to win Paris-Roubaix for a second time, when you won in a close sprint in 1993?
After my first victory, I felt a certain level of frustration: It is true that it was normal that I ended up winning, since I had become a good specialist in the race. But, the press seemed not to make much of it. Duclos won, it’s fair, it’s normal, but nothing more... as if there was nothing to celebrate. So I reset the counters to zero, and I have to win again. Well, in 1993, I found myself in the breakaway again—luck is with me, which had eliminated a few riders with punctures and allowed me to come back. Further on, when I get out of the Carrefour de l'Arbre with only (Franco) Ballerini, I had already won my bet: worst case I‘ll finish second, but anyway I confirmed that my first victory was not a coincidence. So, beating Franco in the sprint was a huge joy. What I proved with this second victory was that I was not only this racer with panache, but that I was also a fine tactician, a captain of the road who knew how to maneuver with his opponents. I won in two different ways, basically.
What characteristics and qualities make a rider great for Paris-Roubaix? Is it different from all other races, even other cobbled races?
Well, obviously you need to be powerful and have a certain body size. Then it all depends on which Paris-Roubaix we are talking about: dry or wet? If it’s dry, you need this power, and moral strengths: never give up despite falls, punctures. It is a race where everything can happen until the end. And when it's wet, in addition to the rest, you have to be a bit of an acrobat. I was not afraid. I wasn't braking, and I was relatively agile thanks to my track experience. Track is the best school, why: because you have no brakes! The experience gained in Six-Day races has been very useful for me on the road.
What did you think about the 2021 Paris-Roubaix in the mud of autumn?
Of course, I watched it on TV. Riders may be getting smarter, or more skilful, but racing remains true to itself. It is a race where we benefit from technical progress on the equipment, but whose "heart" is immutable, and which will always require the same strengths. In addition it is a race that always represents a big risk, you can end your season there. The emotional charge, the dramatic intensity remains the same.
What was your first experience with TIME pedals like? What different did you notice about them?
As soon as we have been able to try the TIME pedals, I never look for anything else. I immediately adopted the pedal-and-shoe combo. Honestly, the angular freedom was great, but most important was that the performance was perfect, because there too, we were 3 or 4 mm from the axis, and above all the safety was much better, which gave us confidence. So, a no brainer.
What advantages did clipless pedals first bring to cycling in the late 80s vs. old fashioned pedals with toe clips. What features today do you believe make for a great clipless pedal? Did you have a favorite model of TIME pedals from the 1990s?
The advantages over toe clips are immeasurable, on all fronts: efficiency, safety, ease of use. With the toe clips, you had to adjust your cleat under the shoe, and when I started the cleats weren't even removable: they weren't screwed but nailed! You couldn’t mess up regarding the depth of engagement of the foot or on its orientation. However, I was not one of those riders who have trouble adjusting the orientation, because it is not identical on one side and the other, for example.