A Sunday In Hell and it's Just Two Days Away

Arguably the best film ever made about professional cycling. A Sunday In Hell. You can see every bead of sweat on the cyclists and every smashed-up ankle. It really makes you never want to get on a bike again. But it is an amazing film.
— Nick Fraser, BBC commissioning editor

A Sunday in Hell (original title: En Forårsdag i Helvede) is a 1976 Danish documentary film directed by Jørgen Leth. The film is a chronology of the 1976 Paris Roubaix bicycle race from the perspective of participants, organizers and spectators. Paris Roubaix is the most famous and usually the most dramatic of the spring classics. Much of the latter portion is over narrow, cobbled tracks that choke with dust on dry days and become slick and muddy in rain. For the riders it's a challenge to keep going without puncturing or crashing. The film captures not just the events of the 1976 edition but the atmosphere of a professional race. It begins by introducing the contenders: Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck who won the previous year, Freddy Maertens, and Francesco Moser, each with their supporting riders their domestiques, who are charged with helping their team leader win. The film gives views of the team director, protester (the race is halted for a while), spectator, mechanic and rider. As the cobbled section is entered the selection begins. Riders puncture, crash, make the wrong move the race plays out. By the finish in the velodrome in Roubaix only a few are in with a chance. The winner is a surprise, but that is part of the appeal. Post-race the exhausted riders, mired in dirt, give interviews in the velodrome's showers. They look like men who have been to hell and back. 

Even though the Badger wasn't about he still gets a mention when it comes to protestors. "Also, too bad Hinault wasn't around yet -- he could have cleared those protesters out real quick."

Freddy Maertens crashes out, leaving the race wide open for his team mate Marc De Meyer to take the win. Merckx and Roger De Vlaeminck are the favourites, Merckx misses the break. De Vlaeminck and Brooklyn work hard to come away with third, De Vlaeminck not impressed with the result. A young Francesco Moser takes second after being the only one strong enough to bridge the gap to the break. After sitting on, not contributing to the break, then taking the sprint De Meyer shows once again the strongest don't always win. The complete Sunday in Hell film below.

That was Paris Roubaix 1976 and it will be remembered as a race of fluctuating fortunes in the dust of the L'enfer du Nord, in a week or so the same cast will be assembled, the same actors the riders the journalists the officials the rivalry will continue but few will have forgotten that 'Sunday in Hell.'  Excerpt from A Sunday in Hell 1976

1976 1st Marc De Meyer, BEL 2nd Francesco Moser, ITA 3rd Roger De Vlaeminck, BEL

More on Merckx a clip of Eddy Merckx, once again adjusting his seat height while protestors stop the race.