Paris-Roubaix is cobbles stones, loose stones. They have thrown the stones down from a helicopter because the areas were not accessible by normal traffic. A paver has never been working on the track. The stones are trampled by the farmer’s horses and later by the tractors of farmers who work on the fields.
Just recovered from the Tour of Flanders, the next classic race is already knocking at the door: Paris-Roubaix, the Hell of the North. And hell it is. No fun to ride and certainly not to live there. Who remembers the movie a few years ago that causes a stir in France? Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis. A French couple will “migrates” from southern France to northern France. Cold, miserable eating habits and a language, a kind of hybrid Franco-Flemish, is unintelligible. The film was a big success, but mainly because it was a view of a part of France that no one wanted to know a black corner of France where it was always pitch-dark because the light bulb had not yet reached this area. “Dad, do they also have polar bears over there,” is the famous quote from the daughter of the couple that is packing the boxes for the move.
That’s Paris Roubaix in a nutshell.
Appalling roads, barely maintained, dust blowing everywhere and in none of the fields or roads you recognize la Douce France. A real hell! And usually it’s cold, it rains, it hails, or it’s just too hot to cycle properly. It is never normal there.
Yet Paris-Roubaix is a delight for the cycling enthusiast. Refrain, pain, emotion, bent forks, long voids, flat tires and especially acrobatics. If there is a race in the series of spring classics that appeals to the imagination by the acrobatic feats of the riders, then it is Paris-Roubaix.
Paris-Roubaix is cobblestones. Is loose stones. Is a track for the Devil. Every cobblestone strip is numbered and has its own story. Spectators are hardly to seen on the strips. Who lives there cannot be seen and is ashamed of the bad maintenance. Every farmer – because the area is mainly inhabited by farmers, grain farmers with large machines which can store more than a dozen racing bikes, each farmer who cycles, avoids the cobblestones.
Paris-Roubaix is a race for masochists and voyeurs, but also for romantics. It’s like ice skating before the snow blades were invented, like driving a car before there was asphalt, like deep-sea diving without an oxygen tank. The heroes on the bike are on their own and it is still a wonder that they do not have to repair their own punctures or to bend their forks right after another crash. When Paris-Roubaix is held, the spring really begins!