Three days prior to the start of Paris Roubaix the team drove to the Arenberg forest to ride the course. From Arenberg it is roughly 100 km to the finish. Each of the 17 remaining cobbled sectors is separated by less than 10 km of tarmac. In Arenberg the race becomes relentlessly difficult—the 100 km that follow the forest are perhaps the hardest 100 km in professional cycling. The vibrations beat the cyclist’s body, his muscles are torn from the effort and his eyes burn from the dust.
The cobbles were relatively dry when we rode them although there were a few muddy sections where puddles had formed or tractors muddied the road. In the video, you can see the riders slipping and sliding on the slick sections. The crowds were already gathering in anticipation for Sunday’s race and the media was out to photograph the protagonists testing their legs and their equipment on the cobbles.
The countryside the course crosses is grim but comes alive for on race day. The video captures the fields that are open to the wind. The grey clouds which blow in from the North Sea look ominous. The spring air in northern France is damp and cold.
In an ironic twist we ended up finishing our ride with Saxo Bank, as we were both out on the parcours at the same time. There are few sports where rival teams will chat in training three days prior to the big event. In cycling, rivals are friends and there is a shared respect that somehow transcends the race. And, despite those friendships we will battle with them until the bitter end on Sunday.