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Re: Paris-Roubaix l'enfer du Nord
« on: March 28, 2017, 10:09 »
Taken from The website - source

On 9 April, for the 115th edition of the “Queen of the Classics”, the route the peloton will race on will comprise 55km of cobblestones (vs 52.8km in 2016), on the total distance of 257km between Compiègne and the Roubaix velodrome. The favourites are expected to stand out on the tranchée d'Arenberg, in Mons-en-Pévèle or at the Carrefour de l'Arbre… but early in the race they will also discover the Briastre (km112.5) and Solesmes (km 116) cobbled sections, which haven't been used since 1987!

The opening weeks of the year have given the best riders in the world the opportunity to gradually get back in action, under summer skies in Australia or in the Middle East for example. All riders come into the season with their individual perspectives and ambitions… and some of them rack up the kilometres with the sole goal of starring in the Spring Classics. Scenarios do not necessarily follow the prediction logic on Paris-Roubaix, as was the case last year with Matthew Hayman winning at the conclusion of an early-race break away. While the key sections of the route are detected and carefully identified, from the first cobblestone sector at Troisvilles to that of the Carrefour de l'Arbre, by passing through the famous sections at Arenberg and Mons-en-Pévèle, arrangements have been made to visit or revisit some places that are likely to reshuffle the cards.

This year, immediately after the first stretches of cobblestone a change of direction will lead the peloton to the Briastre and Solesmes sectors (numbers 26 and 25), which haven't been used in the race for 30 years. Route designer, Thierry Gouvenou details the characteristics. “The first is three kilometres long, it is actually being renovated but it is one of the difficult sectors. The next is a lot shorter, however it is uphill! It is not our wish to make the race harder at this stage, but to find more diversity between the cobblestone sectors and make sure these areas continue to feed the legend”. In total, the cycling acrobats will have an added 2.2 kilometres of cobblestones to ride over compared to last year, before reaching the finish at the Roubaix Velodrome.


On the tracks of the cobbles…

Each week, letour.fr will be taking a detailed look at a place that has marked the history of Paris-Roubaix


Compiègne: cycling royalty


From Saturday 8th April, Compiègne will be bathed in the atmosphere of Paris-Roubaix for 24 hours. The presentation of the teams, the race headquarters and the press room as well as the race's start will be located within the grounds of the sumptuous château in the heart of the town.

 
The esplanade of the Château de Compiègne hosted all the monarchs of the Middle Ages for their first halt on the return from their coronations in Reims Cathedral. However, since 1977, it is the kings of the cobbles who assemble with the aim of a consecration that they all dream of on completion of the 250-kilometre route. Already, on the day before the race, the favourites are questioned about their form, strategy and fears. The nearer the start, the more intense the tension becomes: the large cobbles at the start zone set the tone for this especially particular day.
 
Forty years ago, the first start in Compiègne gave rise to a historical race for several reasons. Although he was unaware of it, Eddy Merckx climbed onto his bike for his last Paris-Roubaix, which he finished in the middle of the afternoon in 11th position. The opportunity to pick up a fourth title slipped through The Cannibal's fingers, but not those of his rival Roger De Vlaeminck, who climbed on top of the podium that day. Consequently, to this day, The Gypsy is still on cloud nine, even if he now shares the record for victories with Tom Boonen since 2012.
 
In 2007, the cobbles of Compiègne did not only have pride of place for the “Easter Race”, several months later they also hosted the finish of a stage on the Tour de France, on which a regular rider on the Hell of the North excelled. At the age of 26-years old, Fabian Cancellara already possessed a cobble trophy in his collection thanks to his victory in Roubaix in 2006. After the initial phase of the 2007 Tour de France in England, Spartacus was in the Yellow Jersey for the finish in Compiègne, where he outdid all the sprinters with an attack one kilometre from the finish.
 
Already in the spotlight since 1977, as from last year, Compiègne has benefited from extra exposure: the race is broadcast live around the world from the very first kilometre, so that viewers miss nothing of the initial moves on the race, or the landscapes of the Oise department.

Troisvilles: ready, steady… shake!

The first cobbled section on Paris-Roubaix commences shortly after the ride along Rue de la Sucrerie, but, despite what the street's sugary name may suggest, there is nothing sweet about this introduction! After the start in Compiègne, the first 100 kilometres are generally covered at a swift pace by the pack, whilst a good handful of breakaway riders are under illusions of success as they pedal at the forefront. The race favourites will not have awaited the entrance to the village of Troisvilles to put their team-mates into action, going shoulder to shoulder with other riders and flirting with the road verges to reach the front. The tension that reigns over the race at this vital moment is best described by Stephen Roche: “There are some guys who would kill their mother to be among the first riders”.
 
The first encounter with the cobbles has taken place in Troisvilles since 1987, after 98 kilometres of racing. Of course, the hardest part of the race still awaits, but the test to overcome on the first two kilometres of cobbles (2,200 m to be precise, with a 3-star classification) offers a wealth of insights. The sensations rarely tell lies at this stage of the race: the leaders will know if they have the legs to win, but also whether they are mentally ready to throw themselves into the endless sequence of juddering that they will have to tackle to reach Roubaix.
 
The resilient riders will already be put through the mill on the route leading from Troisvilles to Inchy, even though the cull among the pack has only just started. Many twists in the tale still await, but sometimes the riders who go on the attack at this point meet with a glorious destiny at the end of the day. Such was the case for Australian Mathew Hayman, involved in the morning's breakaway last year, unaware that he was going to experience the finest day of his career, just like his countryman Stuart O'Grady ten years ago. In Troisvilles, anything can happen.

Haveluy: in a spin

On tackling the last 100 kilometres, the riders have “only” covered 17 kilometres of cobbles. The number of punctures and falls is already starting to mount and the Arenberg section, deadly to many a rider's hopes, is approaching. However, sometimes the battle may well start as soon as Haveluy, which is very conducive to winning moves.

Modern washing machines allow their users to carefully adjust the speed of spin required. The same principle can be applied to the cobbled sections on Paris-Roubaix, with the level of difficulty giving an idea of just what sort of a spin the riders will find themselves in. At the end of the 1990's, the route on the Queen of the Classics included a stretch of tarmac that was considered to be too comfortable and especially conducive to regrouping, between the passage through Valenciennes and the Trouée d'Arenberg section, separated by twenty kilometres. The detour required to take in Haveluy, where a 2.5-kilometre cobbled lane is located, made it possible to put the riders in even more of a spin and to kick off a cull which only becomes even more formidable.
 
On entering the Haveluy section, a headstone pays tribute to Jean Donain, a very knowledgeable connoisseur of the area through his position as organiser of the Denain Grand Prix. It was Mr. Donain who suggested to Jean-François Pescheux, in charge of drawing up the route at the time, to incorporate this cobbled section that was capable of slimming down the pack. This malicious stretch of route was adopted from the 2001 edition onwards and the best strategists soon grasped the opportunities thrown up by these disjointed and sometimes flooded cobbles, even if they were still 100 kilometres from the finish. Moves made in Haveluy are not always successful, but last year, it was precisely at this point when Tony Martin and Tom Boonen, then team-mates and in pursuit of the breakaway, put in an acceleration that left Peter Sagan and Fabian Cancellara in their wake. Thereafter, the World Champion and the foremost future retiree in the pack were not able to regain contact with the race leaders…

Arenberg

On the world cycling map, some places appear in capital letters. Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux are among them, as is the Stelvio in Italy, the Angliru in Spain and the Cauberg in The Netherlands. The review of these sites steeped in the history and soul of cycling inevitably stops at the Trouée d'Arenberg, which the peloton will take on this year at km 161.5. But 2.4km further, only some elite riders will still believe in their chances

Here is a bit of suffering in which they ride into headlong! When the time comes to lunge into the Trouée d'Arenberg, the peloton will be at more than 70kph. Once a year, the peaceful Drève des Boules d'Hérin, frequented by strollers, becomes the “Trench”, as it was renamed by Jacques Goddet, who borrowed WWI terminology to underline the severity of the challenge. Before heading in, the race runs along the Wallers-Arenberg mining site, which is also a symbol of extreme conditions, where coal miners plunged into the galleries during most of the 20th Century. It was precisely one of these hard-working labourers, Jean Stablinski, who suggested the idea of using this cobblestone sector, which was still unknown to the organizers, for the 1968 edition.

The winner of the 1958 Tour of Spain and 1962 World Champion didn't have a bigger dream than to win Paris-Roubaix, where he was more frequently unlucky than rewarded for his efforts (best result, 7th in 1964). However, Stablinski indeed made history as the only rider who suffered and sweated underground, then rode on the Trouée cobblestones. A monument bearing his name was inaugurated in honour of the "discoverer" of the spot following his death in 2007.

Over nearly 50 years, the Trouée d'Arenberg has been the theatre of glorious feats and twists of fate, until becoming something the favourites fear. While the most experienced teams try to anticipate it, the threat persists and the cobblestones do their damage. 1999 favourite, Johan Museeuw injured his kneecap and lost hope of victory on the cobblestones. Philippe Gaumont broke his femur while in contention for the podium in 2001. The punishment was not as harsh for Tom Boonen in 2011, but it was perhaps a puncture in the middle of this straight run cutting through the Raismes forest that saw his opportunity to become the record holder for victories slip away. The Belgian champion still has a chance to claim his 5th Paris-Roubaix success!

Mons-en-Pévèle

Three cobbled sections receive the 5-star classification synonymous with the maximum level of difficulty. The section of Mons-en-Pévèle, three kilometres long and exposed to the wind, marks the entrance into the last fifty kilometres. Those who make it out of this “trap” in the lead can consider that they are in with a chance of winning Paris-Roubaix.

Days that include more than 200 kilometres on a bicycle are not so frequent during the season. By the time the pack approaches Mons-en-Pévèle, they have already exceeded this distance. Furthermore, the build up of shakes on the cobbles has martyrized the riders' hands, wrists and legs for a cumulative total of more than 40 kilometres. Over more than three kilometres of especially bumpy cobbles, the elite group of the pack is reduced to a handful of potential winners. Only the strongest, those who have what it takes to triumph, are able to resist within the leading group, as the man in charge of the route, Thierry Gouvenou, explains: “This section is a genuine indicator of just how able a rider will be in negotiating the final part of the race”. In an even more categorical fashion, the winner of the 1988 edition, Dirk Demol, has the memory of “a place that is a real ordeal. It feels like it will never end. Yet, that is where you genuinely know who will not be victorious in Roubaix”.
 
Keeping up with the pace is not enough at Mons-en-Pévèle. When a champion of the cobbles is in control, he can also take advantage and move into action on this portion that boasts both a slope conducive to accelerations and a good distance to open up significant gaps. In 2000 for example, this is where Johan Museeuw, accompanied by Frankie Andreu, shook off the majority of his rivals before going on to pick up his second title. His heir in the Quick Step team, Tom Boonen, imitated this feat on the day of his third triumph (in 2009), by ramping up the pressure to reduce the leading group to 6 riders. The following year, Fabian Cancellara commenced a solo breakaway at Mons-en-Pévèle for the last 50 kilometres until the cycling arena in Roubaix.

Victories can be built here, but the cobbles of Mons-en-Pévèle can also shatter dreams. George Hincapie had never seemed so close to success, following his second place in 2005, when, in 2006, the fork on his bike broke, throwing him to the ground and leaving him with a broken collar bone. Misfortune or jinxes sometimes combine with mental and physical wear and tear which provoke punctures and falls. Last year, Fabian Cancellara saw his hopes of one last victory in Roubaix crushed at Mons-en-Pévèle when he fell, whilst Peter Sagan appeared to miraculously levitate over him! At Mons-en-Pévèle, action is always guaranteed…

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2 more to come will be added
  • ReplyReply
  • Of course, if this turns out someday to be the industry standard integrated handlebar-computer-braking solution then I'll eat my kevlar-reinforced aerodynamic hat.

    Larri Nov 12, 2014

     

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