Cover Story: Rouleur 20.7 by Russ Ellis

Our evening at a heavenly Hell of the North collection in the middle of nowhere

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Russ Ellis, freelance photographer: It was a few days before the 2019 Paris-Roubaix. I had been out in the late afternoon with my girlfriend Liz, riding our bikes on some of the cobbled sectors close to the velodrome. 

Liz was extremely tired as she had only arrived that day from Australia. Our ride had actually in part been an attempt to keep her awake longer to try and beat the jet lag.

I knew we only had an hour or so out there I was meeting Andy at a location close by that housed a very large collection of Roubaix memorabilia and artefacts. 

Andy McGrath, editor of Rouleur: I hopped on a train in London, Russ collected me straight from Lille Eurostar and we headed through these pitch-black French villages to Pascal Sergent’s house. In the middle of nowhere of northern France describes it about right.

It was pushing for nine in the evening when we arrived. 
There was absolutely nothing cycling-related on the ground floor that gave indication of what lay in wait.

Pascal (below) is an absolute gent, a cycling historian, journalist and collector who is a walking encyclopaedia of knowledge. His love of the sport - and Paris-Roubaix - was abundantly clear from our conversation. (There was a lot of quickfire French flying round too, which can’t have made it any easier for Russ or jet-lagged Liz!) 

Russ: After accepting a drink upon arrival, we were led up the staircase to be met with endless treasures from Paris-Roubaix, the best (in my opinion) bike race in the world.

Russ: It took a short while for me to take it all in, I just kind of stood there for a moment. Then the race fan in me took over and my eyes started to pick out all the cool items.

I guess I forgot I was there to actually work and take pictures; I think I would have just enjoyed looking through it all for hours if I could. 

Andy: It was overwhelming, in the best possible way. I’ve met a fair few collectors over the year but I’ve never seen anything like it in such a small area, crammed so tightly into the rafters, immaculately framed and maintained.

Generations of cycling memorabilia, hanger after hanger of jerseys worn in races by champions: Anquetil, Armstrong, Backstedt, Boonen and so on. Jan Ullrich’s autographed TT helmet (below), little pendants, trinkets, winner’s plates. 

Pascal said we’d need a whole day to scratch the surface; we only had one evening. The funniest thing was when he mentioned that his wife didn’t like cycling. She must be a very understanding woman.

Russ: Eventually, I started to look more closely and get photographs of the more interesting items - one of which was this Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle painting [by the late Ahjoub Ben Bella of his 1993 Paris-Roubaix win].

I loved the colours and the abstract style of it; it’s very cool. I decided to take a few shots of it, some showing the painting in its frame and then a few close ups showing the details.

Andy: I can't remember Rouleur's editorial team making such a fast and unanimous decision about a front cover before. Russ's photo stood out instantly. Those vibrant colours looks even better in print than on the screen too. I guess the Hell of the North can inspire some heavenly art.

Russ: After an hour and a half, we thanked Pascal for his time and hospitality and left the house quite late, by which time Liz was basically asleep. We still talk and laugh about our surreal late night visit to “that” house on the French-Belgian border now.

You can read the article on Pascal's collection in the next issue of Rouleur, number 20.7, and see more of Russ Ellis' work on his website.




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