roubaix remembrance

I checked out the Paris-Roubaix race live again this year. We’d rented a car to see more of the race, but things didn’t go as planned.

We arrived at the startline 9 o’clock and were accompanied by proper Barry Lyndon weather. An incredibly beautiful morning. Sun, fog and a bit chilly. Just 2 degrees warm initially but when the race started it had already gone up to over 10 degrees. I was getting vibes from the old documentary ‘A sunday in hell’.

The riders arrived in their tour busses as usual and then came the cars with all the bikes. A lot of folks were checking out Team SKY’s new Pinarellos with rear suspension. And then it was all about tire pressure — as always at this race.

Lots of FMB 28mm tires and I saw both Sagan and Terpstra run 30mm on their rear wheels. I overheard Farrar’s mechanic ask him what pressure he wanted just to hear the other team mates go for 5.6 and change to that himself, too.

Everyone is so nervous and afraid to believe in themselves during these races. Even experience riders doubt their own judgement.

I saw some well recognized faces too; Wiggo, Paolini and Kristof among others. Paolini’s bikes had a miniature cassette and the big+inner ring are almost identical in size. He must be pulling insanely heavy gears. He was also the last man over the starting line as the race went off. Already from the start he had a 10 m gap to the rest of the guys sporting his “I’ve done this race before” attitude, oozing panache.

We hung out at the Compiègne castle which is unbelievably beautiful – with a sandwich for late breakfast and in no time at all, we were already off schedule and late.

We’d decided beforehand to see the race in the Arenberg forest. That was our big goal with no real plans after that. After our prolonged breakfast we were suddenly in a hurry and had to step on the gas to make it to Arenberg in time.

It was around 2 hours of driving to get there. The information on the website is pretty deficient but they’ve estimated some time checks where the peloton will pass. The Arenberg section is so small that it isn’t even featured on google maps – you’ll have to ask your way around.

We knew that we were getting close when we saw cars parked everywhere. But then what? We had to run 2k on a trail and the peloton passed like a freight train just as we got into position at Arenberg.

The moment passed quickly due to their high speeds. And then suddenly everything was over. But something happend, the caravan stopped – Chute! The Bora-Argon18 cyclist Archbold had gone down.

2 minutes later the caravan began to roll. All vehicles passed including the broom truck and everyone started walking on the pavé thinking ‘that was it’. Then, loud whistles were coming from behind and everyone quickly made room for a rider that appeared from nowhere and the whole crowd cheered like mad, just like a couple of moments earlier when the peloton passed us.

A small gang of dedicated fans in the twenties had dressed up in weird funny outfits. They were ranting and kept the vibe going, some were so boozed up they couldn’t walk. At times it felt more like a music festival — dust in the air and flags everywhere.

At the start of the cobbled section you could get belgian waffles, choucroute and beer. They had also brought a large projector and we decided to stay and watch the rest of the race instead of chasing the peloton.

Arenberg was epic, but a bit of a hassle for an experience so short. It would probably have been even more spectacular if it was muddy and slippery instead of warm and dry, but hey! To see the peloton hit Arenberg at full gas was intense.

Sometimes you wonder if it’s insane to go 300km in a rental car to catch a glimpse of your heroes? But you all know I had to go.

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