4 ways Holy Week exemplified everything we love about cycling

That was special

The pain, the pageantry, the history, the prestige, the cobbles … oh god, the cobbles.

Road cycling’s Holy Week is one of the greatest weeks in sports. In that span from April 2 and April 9 this year, the best riders in the world took on the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, two of the most grueling races ever conceived, taking place on historic roads in Belgium and northern France. Riders both anxiously await and dread the events every year. For fans, there’s no purer distillation of everything that makes the sport so special.

Trek-Segafredo has a long history of heroics at the two races, including back-to-back wins at the first two editions ever of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. This year, the men’s and women’s teams gutted out memorable performances. Mads Pedersen and Elisa Longo Borghini (who was coming off Covid, mind you) both took third at Flanders. Pedersen then followed the result with an animated effort for fourth at Paris-Roubaix, his best ever finish in the Hell of the North.

If you’ve never gone behind the scenes of Holy Week, then you’re in good hands. Trek-Segafredo let the camera in on the prep and race-day action for two of the most exciting races of the year. Watch the latest episode of “All Access” now:

The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix alone produced enough highlights to fill a year. With Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the fourth of cycling’s five Monument races, coming this weekend, let’s revisit Nos. 2 and 3 and celebrate the coming close to this year’s spring classics season. Here are four ways Holy Week 2023 exemplified everything we love about cycling.

1) The unexpected

At one point, the peloton seemed to be within spitting distance of Alison Jackson and her breakaway mates during the closing kilometers of Paris-Roubaix Femmes. But then a funny thing happened: Jackson and crew just kept grinding, and by some combination of tired legs and hubris, the chasing bunch never fully bridged over to the leaders.

Trek-Segafredo’s Longo Borghini and Lucinda Brand made valiant digs off the front of the peloton, but to no avail. The result was Jackson winning a sprint in the Roubaix velodrome and yet another stunning victory in the three-year history of the race.

Holy Week has the potential to create the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. On the men’s side, Flanders was marred by one of the biggest crashes of the season when a rider rode off the road onto a patch of wet grass, turned to put his wheels back on tarmac, then accidentally veered wildly into the peloton and took down dozens of riders, sewing chaos well before the race’s traditional flashpoints like the Oude Kwaremont.

Speaking of the infamous climb, those steep slopes might normally deter a strong sprinter like Mads Pedersen, but the Dane attacked aggressively in the final 30 kilometers of Flanders in an all-in bid to steal the race win. And though he was absorbed by the pre-race favorites, Pedersen had the legs to sprint for the final spot on the podium. Absolutely no one rode harder that day, and the photos tell a story of all-out effort.

2) The bikes

The roughest races require the absolute best equipment. For Paris-Roubaix, the men’s team largely rode the speedy Madone, while the women opted for the rugged and proven Domane. Both bikes were more than up to the task, particularly on a set of Pirelli P Zero tires. The team only suffered one puncture on the most infamous cobblestone roads in the world.

On top of which, the bikes looked damn pretty, too. Trek revealed two new Project One paint schemes during Holy Week. Flip through the galleries to take a closer look.

Mads’ “Red Smoke” Madone

Elisa’s “Team Trek Black” Domane

3) The grit

The photos tell the story here better than words ever could. Simply finishing a race like Paris-Roubaix is an achievement by itself. This year, the men’s race was particularly impressive, with 135 out of 175 starting riders crossing the finish line. At an average of 46.84 kilometers per hour, it was the fastest edition of the race ever, too. 

Take a look at the gallery below, then read the incredible story of Emils Liepins’ last-place effort in 2021 through the rainiest, muddiest and slipperiest Paris-Roubaix in nearly two decades.

4) The atmosphere

In the latest episode of “All Access,” Longo Borghini describes entering the Oude Kwaremont as a “big casino.”

“You smell beer, you smell roasted meat, and then all the people are just screaming out loud, and sometimes you hear your name,” she says. “It’s so great.”

Pedersen says that sometimes the Holy Week crowds are so loud, “I can’t couldn’t even hear the radio.”

Somehow, bone-chilling weather and masochistic racing produces one of the best party atmospheres in the world. Cycling is ultimately a form of entertainment for millions of people around the world. It’d be nothing without the fans who imbue the events with importance and passion. 

More than anything, the atmosphere may be what makes Holy Week greater than anything else on the cycling calendar.