Picture Will Clarke, lying in a hotel room in France, in the dark, staring at the ceiling, ankles and arms and back sore, legs up, dust buried in his nostrils and ears, trying to sleep. Clarke — who rode his bicycle 257 km (with 55 km of pavé) at an average of 43.9 km per hour, expending an average of 290 watts for 5 hours, 50 minutes and 48 seconds — is tired. He stares at the ceiling. He closes his eyes. Then he remembers his breakaway, the kilometers he and Paddy Bevin shot off the front, shelling out 400 watts for 20 minutes, before being gobbled back up by the pack. He remembers one crash — it happened right in front of him, stopped him up for a bit — and he remembers the weather, low 20s Celsius, slight tailwind. He remembers the dry cobbles. He remembers the dust.

Clarke can't sleep.

"After the race, you're thinking a lot," he said. "You're still thinking about how your own race went and how you could have done better, if you had done this or that." His teammate, Sebastian Langeveld, finished third in the 115th edition of the one-day Spring Classic, Paris-Roubaix ("Hell of the North"; "Queen of the Classics"). Clarke finished with the peloton, nine minutes back. His eyes are dry. His body is exhausted. Tomorrow, he will ride, no more than 20 km per hour for a few hours. He will be sore for days. "I really love it," he said. "I love the racing, I love the training, if you can win a race — it makes all the sacrifices worthwhile. But at the end of the day, it's not everything. It's not going to last forever."

Clarke is 32. He has raced bicycles for a decade, and this is his eighth season as a professional. In 2016, he had five wins — his best season yet. This year, he hopes to ride a Grand Tour. He is aiming for a few more good seasons on the professional circuit and to finish out his career by ticking off races on his bucket list. Clarke grew up swimming and running, competing in the 400 and 800 meters in track and field. He reached a national level in his native Australia, then suffered running-related injuries — stress fractures that plagued him during his late teens, early 20s. He had a few friends that rode bikes, and he started watching races. Then, he bought his own bike, and he was hooked. He competed in his first bike race at 22, upgraded from local to domestic, then moved off to Belgium and continued upward from there.

"I guess I'm not that young anymore," he said. "But in some ways I was consistent last year and I am still building up." He rides for Cannondale-Drapac, his fifth professional team. "This year's given me another chance." In 2017, he competed in Milan-San Remo and Scheldeprijs, then Paris-Roubaix. It was his second time competing in the illustrious monument.

At Paris-Roubaix, Clarke rode an unmarked machine. He saddled up on Cannondale's newest iteration of the Synapse, its frame equipped with disc brakes and Di2. The bike is engineered with a series of micro-suspension elements that can reduce the fatigue caused by a bumpy ride — or 29 sections of pavé. "I found it quite comfortable and fast on the cobbles," Clarke said. "The bike enabled me to move up in the peloton." The frame also played to Clarke's preferences. "I like a stiff bike. I don't like if it's a bit soft," he noted. "And obviously it has to feel good." His bike came with one Paris-Roubaix-specific adaptation: grip tape in the bottle cages. "If you lose a bottle, you may be without water for a while."

"I was hoping I might be able to keep the bike," Clarke said, but after the race, it was quickly whisked away. The next day, he returned to his SuperSix EVO disc, but the Synapse plays well with Clarke's preferred riding. "I like riding in the hills, but not the massive mountains. I like nice undulating roads, some climbing and descending, some flat parts. I like getting out of the city where it's nice and quiet, out in the country." Clarke spends most of his year in Girona, Spain, where routes like these extend in every direction. He also hops off-road on occasion, mountain biking or taking to dirt and gravel roads. "If I had that Synapse to train on, that would be nice," he said, wistfully. "It was a nice, nice bike."

Compared to his first Paris-Roubaix, in 2013, Clarke raced stronger this year. He squared off against the beast and didn’t finish first, but finished strong. The Classics are made to challenge and break riders; they are designed for an intensity of torture that is often distilled down over the longer, multiday stage races. "Sometimes you can stop and have a nature break," Clarke said. "But that never happened. It's definitely one of the most intense races I've ever done." Gaps emerged and closed instantaneously. Breaks alternated throughout the day. The race was the fastest on record. "You're just going full out all day."

And so, one might think, it'd be easy to close the eyelids and flutter away into sleep once comfortably tucked in at night. Yet Clarke, jostled and sore, with dust packed into hidden corners of his body, stared away at the ceiling, replaying the many movements of the two-wheeled journey between Paris and Roubaix. It was a good race. It was a good bike. But with only a few hours between the finish line and that quiet moment in bed, the race was just beginning to let his mind or his body go. "For days after the race," he said, "I was still coughing up dirt."

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