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Rebuilding Roubaix: How the keepers of the cobbles preserve cycling’s most famous landscape

Paris-Roubaix pavé gets spruced up ahead of the Hell of the North

Although the famous cobbles that make Paris-Roubaix the most feared of the Classics are notoriously unforgiving this doesn't mean they don't sometimes need a little TLC themselves.

Every winter thousands of tons of trundling farm equipment do their best to squish them back into the French mud.

To prevent them disappearing for good, ahead of their yearly moment of stardom, Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix (The Friends of Paris-Roubaix) get to work making sure the cobbles are in tip top condition.

Les Amis have been busy since the start of March getting each secteur into order before this year's edition of Paris-Roubaix takes place on Sunday 8th April.

Despite the wintry weather across this part of France, Les Amis have been out in force working on the cobbles. From minor repairs to relaying whole swathes of stones.

This year, they have also enlisted the assistance of students from the Horticultural Professional High school in Lomme, which is north of the race route.

Have a look at Les Amis on Twitter for more photos of their essential work: twitter.com/A_ParisRoubaix

Saving the cobbles

With the roads that crisscrossed France historically being constructed from cobbles, the majority of the course on which Paris-Roubaix was originally ridden would have been comprised of pave.

However by the sixties, as technology improved, a tide of smoothly laid tarmac threatened to bury the cobbles along with the unique character of the race.

In response Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix was founded to preserve the cobbles and save the race.

Now synonymous both with cycling and the culture of the French-Belgian border region, it took years of advocacy to convince the local farmers and landowners that the cobbles were worth saving.

Key to the success of the project was convincing the locals that Les Amis would be there to repair the roads that remain as essential to their livelihoods as they are to the Queen of the Classics.

Along with restoring the cobbled back roads that make the race so notorious, Les Amis also sought to discover new secteurs of pave to be included.

In fact it was the president of Les Amis, Alain Bernard, who stumbled upon the section of pave, the Carrefour de l'Arbre, which would become central to the latter part of the race.

While there are unlikely to be any undiscovered sections of pave left to find Les Amis still have plenty of work to do.

Along with the cobble awarded to the winner of each year's race they have had to contend with replacing stones heaved out of the road by overly enthusiastic souvenir hunters.

With the race just weeks away the finishing touches are being applied to the cobbles, ready for them to host the world's best bike riders, before returning to their more prosaic existence, preventing local traffic from sinking into the mud.