L’enfer du Nord Reconnaissance

by CyclingTips

Yesterday we made the pilgrimage from the Arenberg Forest to the Roubaix Velodrome. After riding these roads I think every cyclist should try to make this journey once in their life to appreciate how punishing and demanding this race really is.

Before coming here I had always wondered if the cobbled sections were actually as difficult as the stories told, or if the prestige of the race had built them up to proportions that nobody would challenge. I now understand first hand how incredibly difficult this race would be and will always think back to it when I return to being an armchair critic. I can’t compare it to anything I’ve experienced before – even on the mountain bike. The amount of effort required to ride over the cobbles combined with the cramping of the fingers is exhausting. You cannot ease off the pace or have a lapse in concentration or else you will come to a complete stop or fall. Holding the wheel in front only gives you a psychological boost – not a physical one. The forces of the cobbles impeding you from going forwards is far greater than the resistance of the wind. Seeing what’s in front of you is more important than hiding from the wind behind a wheel.

The sides of the cobbled roads are easiest to ride because there’s often a narrow smooth patch off the road. The bike moves with half the effort on these parts, but these relatively smooth lines sometimes halt without warning. At times you’re simply riding on the grass cruising along thinking life is good, then a massive pothole appears. Then there’s the “death strip” of razor sharp stones that delineate the side of the road which you’ll sometimes need to hop over on a terrifying angle at full speed. Negotiating these obstacles with 200 riders around you would be ridiculous.

If you ever wondered what your bike is capable of, you’ll realise how much of a pounding these things can withstand when bashing them over the cobbles for a few days. Many of the pros we saw out on the course were using 27mm tyres with about 60-70 PSI and often machines resembling cyclocross bikes, but our show-pony bikes seemed to make it through relatively fine.

Riding the 2.4 kilometer section of the Trouee d’Arenberg was spectacular. Many of the Pro Teams were out doing their reconnaissance at the same time as us and you could feel the buzz and excitement in the air. Punters like us riding with Bonnan and Pozzato on these roads a couple days before the race is one of coolest the memories of my life.

We were fortunate to have been granted access to the Roubaix Velodrome to do one and a half laps of the track just as the race will be doing tomorrow. The velodrome and the Clubhouse Au Pavé were much different than I had expected. It was nearly dilapidated and on any other day of the year it would probably be a ghost town. But this weekend every April it turns into something magnificent and millions of eyes will be watching.

After our ride we were allowed to wash up in the famous clubhouse showers where plaques of former winners sit on the tombstone-like walls. Only in a sport of cycling would something like a common shower block can be a time capsule of stories and ghosts. These showers are as legendary as the cobbles themselves. Tom Boonen was quoted as saying, ““When I stand in the showers in Roubaix, I actually start the preparation for next year.” It’s likely that Boonen’s plaque saying “BOONEN T. Vainqueur 2005” will need to be updated tomorrow and he’ll be thinking about the next one.

Totals for the day were 6 punctures (4 were mine), 2 broken wheels (none mine), a few stray bidons, and one stack (the cobbles were the only thing damaged – Scotty was fine).

The forecast for tomorrow is a high of 10C and periods of rain. It was cold and damp this morning but the roads were in good condition without too much moisture. It’s gonna be a cracker!

Cobbled Sectors

# place length km appreciation
27 Troisvilles à Inchy 2.200 m 97,5 +++
26 Viesly à Quiévy 1.800 m 104 +++
25 Quiévy à Saint-Python 3.700 m 106,5 ++++
24 Saint-Python 1.500 m 111,5 ++
23 Vertain à St-Martin-sur-Ecaillon 2.300 m 119,5 +++
22 Capelle-sur-Ecaillon à Le Buat 1.700 m 126 +++
Artres à Préseau 1.900 m 137
21 Aulnoy-lez-Valenciennes à Famars 2.600 m 142 +++++
20 Famars à Quérénaing 1.200 m 145,5 ++
19 Quérénaing à Maing 2.500 m 149 +++
18 Maing à Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon 1.600 m 152 +++
17 Haveluy à Wallers 2.500 m 163,5 ++++
16 Trouée d’Arenberg 2.400 m 172 +++++
15 Millonfosse à Bousignies 1.400 m 178,5 +++
14 Brillion à Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes 1.100 m 183 ++
14 Tilloy à Sars-et-Rosières 2.400 m 185,5 +++
13 Beuvry-la-Forêt à Orchies 1.400 m 192 +++
12 Orchies 1.700 m 197 +++
11 Auchy-lez-Orchies à Bersée 2.600 m 203 ++++
10 Mons-en-Pévèle 3.000 m 208,5 +++++
9 Mérignies à Avelin 700 m 215 ++
8 Pont-Thibaut à Ennevelin 1.400 m 218 +++
7 Templeuve : L’Epinette 200 m 223,5 +
7 Templeuve : Moulin-de-Vertain 500 m 224 ++
6 Cysoing à Bourghelles 1.300 m 230,5 ++++
6 Bourghelles à Wannehain 1.100 m 233 +++
5 Camphin-en-Pévèle 1.800 m 237,5 ++++
4 Carrefour de l’Arbre 2.100 m 240,5 +++++
3 Gruson 1.100 m 242,5 ++
2 Willems à Hem 1.400 m 249,5 ++
1 Charles Crupelandt, Roubaix 300 m 256,5 +
total 51.5 km

ASO indicates that the appreciation is based on the length, the irregularity of the cobble stones, the general state of the zone and it’s place in the race.