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Paris-Roubaix 21-23 April 2001

By and © Simon Barnes, 2 May 2001
This is my account of a trip to France to ride the Paris Roubaix race route. Being an ex- amateur racing cyclist and a devoted fan of cycle racing it has always been an ambition of mine and having spent many years watching the race on Eurosport I finally decided to give it a go. The route was plotted on a map from Internet race route details and constant study of video coverage. My brother Jong agreed to join me and my girlfriend Allison agreed to act as our `back up' vehicle. We rode standard race bikes with 700c x 23 tyres (Kevlar). Mine is equipped with carbon forks and Jong's with steel straight forks and apart from routine maintenance we set off with no special precautions. The 2001 edition of the race was run off the previous weekend in absolute hellish conditions and we were afraid that we would encounter the same. The week before we went was accompanied with strong cold Northerly winds and constant downpours of hail and sleet so I was very nervous. The race is steeped in legend, `Hell of the North' etc but in fact is a very pleasant and interesting route (when dry!) and is virtually untouched by traffic beyond Bohain. We enjoyed it immensely and I would recommend it but unless you are a real purist like me then don't bother with the Compiegne - St Quentin leg.

Saturday 21 April 2001

Out of bed at 0600, in car and away via the cashpoint at Snodland for 0700. Arrived at Tunnel terminal at approx. 0740 and changed money and had a coffee before being called to board the train departing at 0906. After spotting the bike on the roof, all wheels in the boot were unpacked and sprayed down with disinfectant to counter the Foot & Mouth outbreak. Then through a wheel wash and onto the train. Train departed on time and we arrived in the French daylight approx. 1100 CET. Very quickly picked up the A26 motorway towards Paris and having collected a ticket for the toll we headed towards Compiegne. Arrived Compiegne at 1340 after stopping twice on motorway for toilet stops.

Parked alongside river in free car park just before the bridge and somewhat dutifully got changed and ready for the long haul north to Bohain. The weather was bright but overcast but as we feared, a strong Northerly wind was blowing which was to hamper our efforts. After starting we made a brief visit to the official start of PR outside the town hall and had a small taste of the cobbles before setting off back past the car park following signs for Noyon. This first stage along the N32 was dreary and we had to use a dusty cycle path. Wind was strong but we made good progress and soon arrived and passed through Noyon. Again following the D392 we fought our way up to Ham and encountered the dreaded straight and undulating roads of Northern France. Wind remained very strong and we took turns on the front in 10 min hauls. Having clattered across the railway crossing into Ham and feeling hungry (approx. 1630) we bought some very nice apple and chocolate cakes from the patisserie and ate them in the sun. This was warm out of the wind and with full stomachs we again set off towards St. Quentin. This was again a long, hard haul with the wind and a bit too fast for comfort. The urge to get to the end of the stage was a bit too strong and entering St. Quentin my legs were starting to feel the pace. After negotiating some particularly dangerous junctions in SQ we headed out and towards Bohain. The undulations and the wind were now taking their toll and heading up to Fresnoy my legs were screaming. Shortly before this Allison had soared past us in the car tooting away and we managed to wave before continuing our suffering. The last few km's were purgatory counting down and at last we reached Bohain and the car. (1800)

After a rural drive to Hauchin which took an hour we checked in to the Formule1 Hotel and armed with our code numbers we showered and then drove into Valenciennes and eventually found a Pizza house. Back to the hotel at 2300 collapsed and slept. 54 miles cycled.

Sunday 22 April 2001

Out of bed at 0630 again and on the road at Bohain at 0830. (Allison set off for Eurodisney). The weather was freezing fog but the sun was threatening to burn through and we set off with refreshed legs looking forward to the adventure. A steady run of 5 miles down the D8 to Honnechy and turn left under the railway bridge and we were at last in the country lanes. The road surface immediately deteriorates and the hedgerows and banks close in. Passed a motorcycle club and we were alone in the lanes. Passing through the village of Troisvilles suddenly forking left is the first secteur of pavee.

Secteur 26 Troisvilles (2200m)

We clattered cautiously onto the pavee and pedaling steadily we rode along the short track keeping on the crown as best as we could The tyre tracks from last weeks race are visible in the dirt and we follow them until after a farm building we are back onto the tarmac as we cross the main road and immediately back onto the pavee. The pavee is dry and my gloves are freezing over but the bouncing and clattering certainly warms the body. At a crossroads the remnants of a PR arrow point left and we clatter along and back on to the road at Inchy.

We have picked up a series of yellow arrows in the road with PR sprayed underneath and these start to help with navigation as the route sticks to small lanes and residential lanes that lead into the countryside.

Secteur 25 Viesly (1800m)

Down a slope and up the other side. The cobbles are difficult downhill, as you need to control your brakes, which means holding on with less force. We are afraid to go too fast as we are afraid of smashing our rims. The tarmac starts again just before a small cemetery and we enter Quievy.

Secteur 24 Quievy (3700m)

Out of the back of the village and down a gentle slope past an old fortification and gently up to a cobbled T-junction. My back wheel feels odd and sure enough the first puncture. Repairs underway and the sun comes out - lovely and warm out of the wind. We are soon away again and reach the tarmac. Almost immediately the next section looms forking left off the road.

Secteur 23 Solesmes (1500m)

A rough lane gently uphill and then a gentle drop down again into the outskirts of St Python.

Following the road around to Solesmes we get lost - the yellow arrows bring us to a school building where the trail ends - this must be a staging post for the randonee tour. We somehow head out of Solesmes for a mile in the wrong direction before realizing our mistake and turn round and head back in to Solesmes. A fortuitous stop outside a patisserie creates a cake scoffing session in the sun for ten minutes then we spend 10 minutes cycling round the town trying to find the right exit. Eventually we do and climb the hill out of Solesmes towards Valenciennes. This road forks left and after a mile or two it is back onto the cobbles.

Secteur 22 Haussy (900m)

a short clatter across a field, past some farm buildings and back onto tarmac. My map falls out of my pocket - fortunately Jong spots it.

A pleasant couple of miles are spent on the tarmac until Saulzoir -

Secteur 21 Saulzoir (1200m)

a rolling set of cobbles 1200m long - we are getting the hang of the pavee now.

Secteur 20 (1600m)

Through the small village of Verchain Maugre and straight away up a cobbled slope. The uphill is more difficult now - the cobbles are rough here and the banging is starting to hurt my hands.

Secteur 19 (2500m)

Barely a pause for tarmac in Querenaing and down a wooded lane, nearly all downhill and opens out on some wide good standard pavee before a sharp left onto the road. Here we cannot slow down and head instead into the village of Maing by mistake and need to retrace our steps.

The next 5 miles are on tarmac. Turning right through Monchaux crossing the millstream we go straight at the roundabout and a long drag up the hill before a brief drop into Haspres. Turn left straight after the railway bridge (which has long gone but evident from the embankments) then left again then right and left under the railway bridge and again onto the cobbles

Secteur 18 Haspres (1700m)

a long drag uphill - it is difficult to combine the gear with the hill and the clattering before the pavee levels out and turns into tarmac a km before the main road. Turning left we can see the `pyramids', old coal heaps, in the distance as we cross the motorway and head around the outskirts of Denain and up to Haveluy. Left at the junction in Haveluy and fork right, past some houses and we again on the cobbles.

Secteur 17 Haveluy (2500m)

A long straight battering, past some kids on mountain bikes, sharp right at an isolated abandoned building and again a very rough section to the road. This section is rough - I was looking forward to the end of it as my hands and shoulders were suffering now - also my legs!

Back onto the road opposite the large garden centre and through Wallers. A fairly long haul through the outskirts of Wallers and then left and past the coal mine with its huge pithead tower then in the distance the dreaded Arunberg Forest - over the level crossing and past the vehicle barrier and onto the cobbles

Secteur 18 Arunburg (2400m)

2.4 km of the worst cobbles so far. A gentle downhill doesn't help as these stones are virtually unrideable. They seem a lot larger and more uneven than the other stretches and they mete out a terrible punishment to our bikes. It takes all my strength to pedal and hold a straight line whilst fighting the banging and bouncing. Jong dives for the muddy track alongside but for me this worse, rutted and slippery. Back onto the cobbles then and the fight continues. It is a serious challenge to keep the bike going to the end. This is a very dangerous section and understandable why there are calls now for its omission from the race.

Had a quick stop to examine wheels and rims (OK) and then set off back to hotel via Wallers and Haveluy. Stopped briefly in Denain to buy some provisions and beer! Then a slow haul up the `hill' to hotel. Showered and slept for 3 hours. Went out for a Chinese via Taxi returning home at 2300. Allison back at hotel. 70 miles cycled

Monday 23 April 2001

Set off after a leisurely morning at 1030 - back through Wallers where we decided to divert to the forest again to get some pictures. Duly completed we set off back to Wallers again and turning right before the church along a residential road the cobbles start again.

Secteur 17 Wallers (1600m)

Not so much pavee as a dirt track for the first hundred metres then the cobbles start. These are old and damaged with large sections broken away. Over a level crossing, under a bridge we ride fast to impress some locals then flat out back to the road. A great section!

Weather is warm today and the cobbles certainly warm the body with the shaking as we turn left onto the road. Back towards Wallers again before we veer right and head towards the village of Hornaing with its huge power station with red & white striped towers.

Secteur 16 Hornaing (3700m)

a flat good quality section - quite long - a mountain biker comes the opposite way riding full suspension! Already the soreness in my wrists is returning as we reach the road again.

A very short stretch of tarmac and back to the pavee again..

Secteur 15 Wandignies Hamage (3700m)

again a longish flat stretch - good quality - we are certainly flying across the pavee now with a newfound confidence. Into the village of Warlaing , over the mill race and left before the next stretch again very quickly arrives

Secteur 14 Warlaing (2700m)

Another excellent remote pavee stretching into the distance - we pass remote houses and cattle and clatter on. Starting to enjoy this!

Racing into the village of Tilloy, again the next pavee arrives - these stretches follow in very quick succession and despite the proximity of motorways and main roads on the map seem extremely remote. The surrounding countryside so far today has been completely flat with Spring adding some colour to the trees and bushes.

Secteur 13 Tilloy (2400m)

Again another long remote stretch - a sharp bend deceives me - it is very difficult to stop or turn on the pavee.

Onto the road (at last) and a gentle run towards Orchies. Just before the motorway a small road leads us to a cycle path passing under the motorway in a traffic free alternative to the road leading into Beuvry. Turning left towards Orchies we arrive and find all the shops shut. Looks like a Bank holiday. Fortunately the Frites van is open and we purchase ham and cheese baguettes and sit in the sun for 20 minutes.

Then duly fed and rested it is time to go and we pick upthe arrows once more. A small road slips down towards the side of the motorway and opens out again onto the pavee.

Secteur 12 Orchies (1700m)

a rough muddy section that winds along behind a huge distribution warehouse. The air still has a chill and this section warms us up again after our rest.

Onto the lane again, over the motorway and we follow some very small lanes past a couple of farmers, `Allez Allez'! The lanes separate and wind and we follow the arrows faithfully as they lead us onto the pavee

Secteur 11 Auchy-Les-Orchies (1200m)

A long section - we race hard past some kids picnicking and keep going - the track forks right and twists around some bushes - gets rough towards the end then back into a small village of Wattines.

A road section of approx. 3 miles brings us to a sharp left..

Secteur 10 Cappelle-en -Pevele (500m)

a nasty rough uphill section fortunately short brings us back to the road past the cemetery.

Then a rolling ride across the fields towards the village of Merignies where a left at the small roundabout followed by a right once again turns into pavee.

Secteur 9 Merignies (700m)

A short rough section again ends abruptly on a lane.

Turned right towards Pont-a-Marcq where after a left and almost immediate right fork we head out into the countryside again. A small barely noticeable turning on the right and onto pavee

Secteur 8 Pont Thibaut (1600m)

an excellent pavee , quite long - stop to take some action shots!

The small villages come thick and fast now into Ennevelin into Templeuve past the strange square tower and fork left.

Secteur 7 Templeuve (150m)

a mercifully short wet rough section - not used in the race. This gives a brief experience of the wet conditions- a 10m section is approached dead slow with trepidation!

Templeuve passes and past the windmill through Wachemy and Louvil then Cysoing.

Secteur 6 Cysoing (1000m)

Another rough sectuer winds slightly uphill. Turn left at the crossroads and

Secteur 5 Bourghelles (400m)

rougher still and downhill we clatter before a sharp rise to the main road.

Turning left we head (me with tired legs) towards Camphine - nearly there now.

Secteur 4 Camphin en Pevelle (1800m)

Turn left in front of the farmhouse and onto the pavee - we clatter past a dog walker and with wheels sliding down the camber we reach a very muddy concrete farmyard and enter the village of Camphin.

Through the back of the village and we enter some of the most famous cobbles

Secteur 3 Carrefour de l'arbre (2100m)

an excellent yet very broken and rough section - long - 2100m the holes and edges are full of water and we ride the crown in the mud and grass. Turn left at the t-junction and batter our way towards the `pub'. Excellent.

Straight across the main road...

Secteur 2 Gruson (1100m)

some stones on the first bend and Jong flats his back tyre. We hunch over the repair, glad of the rest! And soon move on. 100m before the end of the cobbles Jong reports a flat front tyre! 2 punctures in the space of a km. Repaired we fight our way to the end and back onto the tarmac.

A comparatively long stretch of tarmac now as we thread our way through minor roads around the outskirts of Roubaix. We pass a small group of tourists and clatter over the level crossing before the last section of pavee.

Secteur 1 Hem (1400m)

A particularly rough section broken up by the traffic. This section appears to be well trafficked and the sides of the road have been tarmacced to fill the ruts. Out of duty we try to keep to the pavee but it is one of the worst stretches (and probably only kept untarmacced in deference to the race.

A busy junction and through an underpass cycle path and we are in Roubaix and we tear up the busy road in the previously forgotten company of cars, lorries and buses. The continuous lights cut our speed and eventually we ride the last ceremonial pavee (300m) (uncharacteristically smooth!) in between the dual carriageways, which leads to the Velodrome. It is shut! I had been hoping to ride around it but we are foiled by the heavy gates. A ride into the centre and after asking a taxi-driver we find the Campanile hotel for a welcome hot drink and shower. Mission accomplished.

65 miles cycled.