11 April 2012

Watching Paris-Roubaix up close

 About this time last year it occurred to me that watching the Paris-Roubaix live could be fun. Not that I am into professional cycling that much, but this spring classic is well known as one of the toughest one-day road races.

It fell on Easter Sunday, and over that period we had a mini-tour of Northern France/Belgium in mind (will be posting on this soon). Train and ferries were booked, route was plotted. All we had to do was ride to one of the cobbled sections.

We camped in Saint-Amand-Les-Eaux, near the Belgium/France border, and got to one of the nearest pavé sections by noon. Some caravans and even more supporters were already waiting for the peloton, scheduled to go through after 2:30 pm.

Entering the official route
As expected, the atmosphere was great and everyone seemed in a great mood. People had set up their own stands with food and booze, despite the cold weather, and only seemed too happy to try and talk to us when they saw us riding on the pavé. Some even cheered us on with a "bon courage"!

Great atmosphere

Lucy practising her French with the locals
We rode on the pavé section up and down a couple of times. Can tell you is no easy job on a heavy tourer!!! Lucy seemed to be handling it ok though, although she, as did the pros, rode mostly on the verge of it, where it is flatter. I tried and ride through the middle of it, which was quite fun as the video demonstrates...

We started to see the teams' cars rushing through the cobbles, an indicator of the riders' proximity. One of the things I noticed was that hand-built wheels are used on this event (rather than fancy, lightweight factory wheels). They are probably much more reliable and will provide a more comfy (if at all possible?) ride on the cobbles. Also saw a few riders carrying an extra brake lever similar to that found on cyclo-cross bikes.

Team cars
Without much delay, the first group flew past us. We reckon Boonen was there, although we could not identify any of the riders. They all seemed pretty knackered, but specially the ones at the back of the peloton.

Riding on the side of the road is a lot easier

Not everyone fits on the verge though!

Allez allez!
This guy seems to be chilling
Some of them were completely lonely at the back...vamos Euskatel!
Notice the hand-built wheels with plenty of crossed spokes
It was great to see this event, its atmosphere and observe the faces of the riders. They still had another 100 km to go after this, and lots of them had already DNF as we later saw in the broom bus. Perhaps next year we will try and see the Tour of Flanders? Until then, no more cobbles for us.


  1. Now, that would have been a cool experience. Living where I do, pro races are few and far between. I was lucky in that the only one I managed to see did a three lap circuit of downtown before the finish line, so I was able to watch the peloton zoom by three times, then rush to a point near the finish to see the final sprint.

    My dream is a cycling vacation through France after retirement in a few years. Maybe I can find the cobbles then!

    Nice post.....

    1. Many thanks Tracy. Apparently the Tour of Flanders is even better to watch, as it loops around some interesting cobbled sections with sharp up and downs. We only got to see them for a few seconds at a time, but still, very interesting! I agree, we're very lucky to leave over here as we could potentially go see races every weekend from now on...!