A Picture in Time
Date: April 11th, 1999
Where: Cysoing in the north of France
Features: Andrea Tafi
By Andy Jones
It is 20 years since Andrea Tafi won Paris-Roubaix, and if all goes according to his plan he will celebrate his victory across the cobblestones of northern France by taking part in the race again this year, at the age of 52.
I travelled to the 1999 race with John Pierce of Photosport International. It was a warm dry day and we went to the start in Compiegne, then caught the race in a couple of places along the way before parking in a field near Cysoing, about five kilometres from the Belgian border.
We were next to the Cysoing cobbled sector, which is sector six now but was sector seven in 1999. It’s a difficult one, rated four stars, and is just over one kilometre long. In 1999 the Cysoing sector was 29 kilometres from the finish. The sector has a corner in it, so I decided to walk back along the crowded stones to the corner, and that’s where I got this photo.
Tafi had been in a break of seven riders, and having been third in 1996 and second in 1998 he was one of the hottest favourites to win that’s year’s Paris-Roubaix. He was wearing the Italian national champion’s Tricolore jersey, which provided added motivation, although I don’t think Tafi needed it. He was on a mission.
I chose a point to pre-focus on the inside of the corner. It was directly on a line I knew the riders would try to follow. I had my Nikon F90 camera loaded with Fuji Provia 200ISO film, and my trusty 35-135mm zoom lens set at around 65mm, 1/250th at f7 with fill-in flash. It worked.
Tafi had just attacked the breakaway group and rounded the corner on his own, in classic Tafi style. No helmet, like most back then, just his trademark cotton cap with the top cut out. His Mapei Colnago team bike seemed to glide through the line, right where I’d focussed, completely unaffected by the rough cobbles. Then he powered on towards Roubaix.
He won by 2 minutes and 14 seconds from Wilfried Peeters and was a further 12 seconds ahead of Tom Steels, completing a Mapei-Quick Step team wipe-out of the podium. In 2019 Peeters and Steels will be back on the race as sports directors with the Deceuninck-Quick Step team, and Andrea Tafi could make history by taking part as a returning winner. Twenty years has got to be the biggest gap between winning and doing the race again, hasn’t it?