Paris-Roubaix Femmes has no Arenberg Forest. Why?

The race starts 10 km from the Arenberg, so why isn't it being used?

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On Saturday at roughly 2:37 pm local time, the first tire of the women’s peloton will hit the first cobble of Hornaing à Wandignies, the first sector of the first women’s Paris-Roubaix. It took a mere 125 years to find ourselves on the precipice of this small piece of history. Yet racing fans can be excused for feeling that something is still missing.

That something is located just a few short kilometers from Hornaing. It is the Arenberg Forest, that traditional opening salvo in the men’s version of the race. From the Arenberg the race is on. No looking back. The women’s race skips it, even though it starts in Denain, less than 10 km away from the Arenberg’s entrance.

In fact, that proximity is precisely why the Trench has been skipped, according to race organizer ASO.

“Although Denain, the start town is close to the Trouée d’Arenberg, it wouldn’t have been feasible to start the race by going straight into this cobbled section,” said Franck Perque, the race director of Roubaix Femmes.

Hitting the Arenberg first wouldn’t be feasible for exactly the same reasons it is so legendary. The entrance is fast, slightly downhill, resulting in speeds over 60 kph as the peloton hits the cobbles. The stones are massive, full of gaps. The overhanging trees keep the surface slightly damp and mossy, so it’s more slippery even on a dry day. It is notorious for high-speed, nasty crashes.

In the men’s Roubaix, the Arenberg is seen as the true start of festivities, but the race has already done 10 full sectors by the time the peloton hit its stones. Those sectors have stretched the peloton and sorted it.

That stretching and sorting is key, Perque said. “In the women’s race, we can’t just launch the whole of the women’s peloton onto the Trouée d’Arenberg as a first cobbled section,” he said.

There’s a reason the men’s race hits a number of lower-grade sectors prior. Any peloton needs a bit of sorting before such a sector.

The women’s race will instead do a series of laps near Denain before turning north toward the Hornaing sector. It’s a brute, too. At 3.7 km, it’s the longest of the race and features two sharp, cobbled corners that will further stretch the peloton.

“At Hornaing, we have three sections one after the other, and folks will suffer a little on the approach to the feed station at Beuvry-La-Forêt,” Perque said. “Then they attack the section as Beuvry, which is also demanding and then the section of the Abattoir, Le Chemin des Abattoirs at Orchies and that’s going to be very difficult. I think that the race is going to split up quite rapidly. Mons-en-Pévèle will be a challenge, and Cysoing-Bourghelles will be really demanding before they tackle Carrefour de L’Arbre. I think there is enough in this course to make it extremely tough for the riders.”

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