Return of the King

Cancellara stands atop the hardest-earned podium in one-day racing

L'enfer du Nord, they call it. The hell of the north. Its proper name is Paris-Roubaix, the Queen of the Classics, a gritty, cobbled race so brutal that only the hardest riders finish. Two-time winner Fabian Cancellara crashed out before the 2012 race, and entered 2013 determined to prove he's still King of the Classics. What'd it take? Everything.

Paris-Roubaix is the toughest race of the year, a harrowing 254km assault on rider and bike that packs all the drama of a 3-week Tour into one grueling day. And what does the winner get for his trouble? A cobble. A rough-hewn rock for his hard-earned victory.

Fabian Cancellara already had two Roubaix cobbles on his shelf, but 2012 had been a disappointing year plagued with crashes, including one that kept him out of Roubaix. The setbacks sharpened his will to earn a third slab of pavement.

Cancellara started this season with two decisive Classics wins, and entered Roubaix a marked man. After five hours of bone-jarring battle with competitors glued to his wheel, he sat up and dropped back to his team car, seemingly beaten down by the relentless pressure. The move drew several contenders back with him—contenders Cancellara left in the dust when he launched a late-race attack, a thrilling charge that carried him through the lead pack forcing him to duel alone with Belgian wunderkind Sep Vanmarcke as they entered the Roubaix Velodrome to sprint to the finish.

Cancellara overcame his younger rival by a bike length, finishing with just enough left in the tank for a victory fist pump before collapsing onto the Velodrome de Roubaix infield. "I've never known a race as hard as this one today," he confessed. "It was everyone against me and against our team. But that's Roubaix, and I kept fighting. I went beyond my limit."

Beyond his limit, and back on the throne.

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King of the Classics Fabian Cancellara defends his throne and takes his Queen in a brutal Roubaix duel to the finish.

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