The cycling race is one of the five cycling classics and normally takes place exactly one week after the Tour of Flanders. The one-day race is known as The Hell of the North (L'Enfer du Nord), because a significant part of the race runs over the cobblestone sections that are characteristic of this area. A journalist who followed the first edition after the First World War and was deeply impressed by the war devastation in northern France first used the description “Hell of the North” in 1919.
The cobblestones of Paris-RoubaixMotorcycle Diaries
Paris-Roubaix is a one-day cycling race held every spring in the north of France.
Originally, the race ran from Saint-Denis in Paris to Roubaix. Because of the great distance, the starting point was moved northwards. In 1965 the starting place was moved to Chantilly. In 1968 it was drawn for the first time in Compiègne, which is about 80 kilometers north of Paris. Since 1943, the finish has traditionally been on the Vélodrome André Pétrieux of Roubaix, where the riders still have one and a half laps to complete.
From the starting point at Compiègne and after about 100 kilometers of cycling, the dazzling spectacle begins at its best. Before that there are still some cobblestone sections but I think this last part will be enough to make everything tremble into place. We still have about 120 kilometres and more than twenty cobblestone streets ahead of us. To me this section seems to be the most interesting challenge.
I start in the small village of Verchain-Muagré. After a few kilometres, a few shorter cobblestone sections follow, which immediately puts me into the right rhythm. Further on it goes via larger roads to Wallers. In this village you’ll have to make a big loop to drive one of the most famous (infamous) kilometres: Le Drève des Boules D'Hérin. A long and straight stretch of cobblestone right through the forest of Wallers. Unfortunately, this part of the route is closed to all motorized traffic.
Then just a detour to get back to Aremberg. At this village you pass le Site Minier d'Aremberg, a piece of industrial archaeology with mining buildings and elevators from last century’s bygone mining industry. So if you want to take the time for it, you can make a stop here. A little further on you will eventually end up in Wallers again.
The buttocks get a little rest. The route continues westwards via asphalt roads and typical northern French villages. Driving smoothly up to Mons-en-Pévèle. Here you find the beloved and at the same time feared strip under the wheels. It is the combination of the length of 2,985 meters and the pitiful condition of the cobblestones, which makes it hard.
We are about half way through the route. With a tight westerly wind in my face and a threatening cloud cover above my head, I take the time for a short lunch break. A bistro or restaurant cannot be found here between the fields. Then just eat the self-made sandwiches.
Eleven more cobblestone sections to go. After Mons-en-Pévèle it is more than 20 kilometres over to Mérignies à Avelin (700 m), Pont-Thibault à Ennevelin (1,400 m), Templeuve – L'Epinette (200 m), Templeuve-Moulin-de-Vertain (500 m). meters), Cysoing à Bourghelles (1,300 meters), Bourghelles à Wannehain (1,100 meters) and Camphin-en-Pévèle (1,800 meters).
After Camphin-en-Pévèle the attack on the suspension and the pilot continues happily as I enter the Pavé de l'Arbre.
The 2,086-meter strip is feared for its deplorable road surface and sloping curves.
The last strip – Rue de Hem is opposite the previous strips, almost a billiards area. This road is being rebuilt stone by stone. The last 100 meters I squeeze my KTM past sand mountains and a bulldozer to enter the busy city of Roubaix fifteen minutes later. Via a large boulevard I set course for the official end point: the Vélodrome of Roubaix. I let the one and a half tour on the local slope pass me by.