Sportive Breaks’ own John Deering spend the 2018 classics season embedded with Peter Sagan and Team Bora Hansgrohe. Here is part two of his Spring Classics preview featuring the king of the cobbles, Paris Roubaix
The most idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable of all bike races. The arduous filth and filthy ardour of the Hell of the North are unmatched in the serious sport. Grown men, professionals at the top of their game, crying like toddlers at the side of the road, caked in dirt, their bodies and bicycles broken by the relentless procession of entirely unsuitable stuff to ride bikes on, crying because they’re hurt, their all-enveloping dreams and desires of victory are crushed, or maybe just at the sheer unfairness and awfulness of it all.
In 1919, a scouting party ventured north from Paris to see if it were yet possible to consider restaging the event that had been so popular before the Great War. Countless vehicle issues later, they arrived back in the capital to report that the blasted tree stumps, the flattened villages, shells of houses and miles and miles and miles could only be described with one word: Hell. The ghosts of the Somme drifted in their millions, just out of sight but never out of mind
In 2019, a whole century on, those pioneers would be delighted to see that though this bleak, flat coalfield landscape will never be pretty, the towns and villages that have been invaded and destroyed so many times over the centuries have once again fought their way back to sleepy French normality, with the odd prosperous, bustling market town here and there, and trades like power and the railways providing steady employment for at least most of those intervening years.
One thing can be safely said to have deteriorated over the passage of time though. These roads are ludicrous. Kilometre upon kilometre of beaten pavé, sunken and rutted to such a degree that a family car would have the sump ripped from its guts, broken and depleted so that mud fills yawning gaps between the teeth of the cobbles. And when it’s wet…
Nowadays, l’Enfer du Nord doesn’t apply to the landscape, it’s the roads they’re talking about.
Come and experience the cobbles for yourself. Sportive Breaks offers a range of bike-friendly hotels, guaranteed race entry, warm-up rides and a race watching package. Book here for 2020 – Paris Roubaix Challenge 2020