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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
65 miles cycled.