Italian Classics specialist who retired in 2005 plots return to the race 20 years after winning it

Andrea Tafi, one of Italy’s greatest ever Classics riders, is aiming to race Paris-Roubaix next season at the age of 52, and fully two decades after he won it.

The rider nicknamed the Gladiator outlined his plans in an interview with Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport in which he said he had already put out feelers to try and find a team for the race.

“This mad idea came to me,” Tafi told the newspaper’s Ciro Scognamiglio. “To return to racing with one aim, to contest once more Paris-Roubaix, 20 years after winning it. An impossible dream? Maybe. But I want to try it.”

During a professional career that spanned 1988 to 2005, Tafi won three of cycling’s five Monuments – he is the only Italian to have won both Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders and he also won the Giro de Lombardia. Each of those wins came while he was riding for the Mapei team.

“I’ve ridden Roubaix 13 times,” he said. “One first place, one second, one third. I always finished it. I believe I’ve acquired a master’s degree in this extraordinary race. So I thought about an historic journey starting with 1999.

“In 20 years, cycling has changed so much and perhaps we don’t have a complete understanding of this evolution. To ride Paris-Roubaix again with new technological solutions wouldn’t be a walk in the park.

“But me, a man who enjoys a challenge, could I pull myself behind it? It would be something unique.”

To take part in next April’s race, Tafi would have to have been subject to an anti-doping programme for six months, and said that he had been in contact with the UCI in that regard and that everything is in order.

Tafi, who said he plans to document his efforts over the coming six months both on social media and through a film, said that the idea had come to him when, under a Master’s licence, he took part in a UCI 1.2 race in Hungary at the suggestion of a friend from that country, finishing 37th.

“I was in the middle of so many young riders which made me turn around a bit. It was very fast, we aaeraged 48 kilometres an hour. I felt good. And someone said to me, ‘Why not ride Paris-Roubaix again?’ … “

That just leaves Tafi, who after retiring in 2005 opened a rural holiday home business in Tuscany, where the apartments bear the names of the Classics he won. in need of finding a team.

Besides the 18 WorldTour teams that will take part, there will be seven wild cards for UCI Professional Continental outfits. Five of those this year went to French teams, the other two to Belgian ones.

“I’ve spoken to people in Italy and Belgium,” Tafi said. "Non-WorldTour. But we haven’t yet had a concrete decision to say, okay, let’s go. But the idea hasn’t displeased them.”

Referring to race organisers ASO, he said: “I have the phone number of [race director Christian] Prudhomme, I need to speak to him, but I know that someone has already raised the issue with him.”

He revealed he still rides between 18 and 19,000 kilometres a year and ways 79 or 80 kilos, and added: “I will do everything in minute detail, I know what I am up against. I hope not to make myself look ridiculous in anyone’s eyes.

“But patience. I’m calm. Serene. Let me dream. Leave me the taste of this Mission Impossible.”

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.