Winston grabbed the opportunity to ride the famous section of cobbles from the upcoming Paris Roubaix.
After a 9 hour drive en route for the first event of Rollapaluza France. Bored in my Etap Hotel Box room, after a cheap dinner with cheap wine I was checking out the local area on google maps thinking about a short ride in the morning. Browsing the area one word jumped out at me “Arenberg”.
Was this THE Arenberg, the forest of Arenberg, the Trouee d’Arenberg I had seen so many of my heroes race through on the TV over the last 20 years, Duclos Lasalle, Museeuw, Van Petegem, Tafi, Hammond? On satellite view, I could see the mine, the railway crossing the old bridge…it was! 2.3km of angular, irregular, cobbles through a miserable damp forest, famous amongst cycling fans around the world.
It was cold and misty in the morning, I thought I was lost, I stopped to ask directions, then realised Iwas across the road form the mine, so I carried on, and a couple of hundred of yards ahead the railway crossing that the pros will ride over just metres before the entrance to the forest. At the entrance is the monument to Jean Stablinksi, a local miner who rode his way out of poverty and became a great professional and cobbles specialist.
So to those cobbles, well we have cobbles here in my region of Germany, plenty of them in fact, I live on a cobbled street, there’s also one section 3 kilometres long, I ride them regularly, hands on tops, high gear lifting my bum out of the saddle and putting down the power, I thought I had cobbles wired. But those are German cobbles, old, yes, but ordered, clean, tidy and well maintained, Arenberg is something else, everything they say it is, you can’t tell what it’s like from TV footage, the cobbles aren’t smooth topped, they are irregular, angular and the “surface” itself is not flat there are constant rises and troughs. Cycling on such a surface is close to unbearable, it’s not a challenge like tree roots or rocks, it’s pergatory, incessant rattling vibration and frustration and don’t think about slowing down, once you’ve lost your momentum, it’s impossible to get it back.
So no, I didn’t ride the whole sector, nor would I, unless forced to by a sadistic race or sportif organiser in a competitive environment. Interestingly the pros used to have the option of dodging the crowds and riding the mud path on the side, however in recent years the organisers do indeed force them onto the cobbles by installing barriers.
There have been recent news stories about Arenberg not being included in this year’s race, because of too much moss and grass, well to be honest I thought that this might soften the ride, but the issue seemed to be, as I could see it that the grass and moss have encroached along large sections on the left side meaning it’s impossible to tell what’s underneath, holes, bumps…or indeed the edge of the cobbled road itself…see pictures.
Paris Roubaix Arenberg 2011: