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‘Twas the night before Roubaix Weekend...

Robyn Davidson
15 Apr 2022

On the beauty of anticipation and joy of progress, Roubaix-Weekend is more than a one-day event

The Monument lasts a few hours, and yet the anticipation extends it into a multi-day race...

It’s the quiet. The calm before the storm. The polarising forces of being at one with the serene surroundings of the sea, knowing darkened clouds are brewing on the horizon.

‘The night before’ usually intertwines itself with traditions of Christmas Eve. The excitement of a child keeping one eye open for Father Christmas, or wondering if Rudolph has taken a bite out of a carrot strategically placed on one of your family’s ‘special occasions only’ plates.

April 2018.

My first roadside experience of Paris-Roubaix

We arrived at the Channel Tunnel to be transported to our destination in an encased tube under the waters. The journey was one of many firsts for me, having only ever ventured across borders inside a plane or on a wind-battered ferry.

Finally, we were at Paris-Roubaix, on the eve of this most historic of races, ready to take it all in. And where better to get a preview of what’s to come than the dreaded Trouée d’Arenberg?

It was fitting that I found myself drawn into the presence of such a historic stretch of pavé like a moth to a flame.

Here, the trees’ reach extends towards the sky and confines those within it to the enveloping nature of the forest. Almost disorienting in that every angle looked indistinguishable from the last.

Each cobbled section of Paris-Roubaix has its lore, its own story to tell. And none more so than the Trouée d’Arenberg. Whispers of historic attacks and the ghosts of cycling past sigh through the empty branches, carried and quickly dissipating with the breeze.

Nature tests its voice as birds communicate to one another, their tunes to be replaced by a cacophonous roar just 24 hours later when the forest would come alive. 

The morning of a cycling race starts early for eager spectators, hoping to avoid eventual road closures that allow the race to pass through uninterrupted. Blaring alarms penetrate the silence that once allowed slumber.

People emerge from their homes to congregate, share stories, make friends. Eventually the riders thunder across the inanimate cobbles, whose very presence in this spot is enough to strike fear into the hearts of those only watching.

We soon sector-hopped to Maing. By that point the sunset had appeared, painting the sky a soothing yellow and orange that helped give the dusty cobbles a softer appearance.

Unlike the figures exploring the brutality of Arenberg in the distance, nobody was investigating the three-star ranked Sector 22.

It’s the very anticipation of Paris-Roubaix that enables its dominance as a race and forces fans and cyclists alike to circle the dates in their calendar, scheduling an out-of-office months in advance.

Now, with the race less than 24 hours away, you allow your mind to be overcome with possibilities. It’s a feeling that manifests itself as goosebumps on the skin and lifts the anticipation levels to a crescendo.

It was here, on the jutting cobbles lying in wait, that I allowed myself to dream. I thought about the women who had never experienced a Paris-Roubaix. I thought about the future, and the hope that one day, they could.

October 2021

My first experience of Paris-Roubaix Femmes

Despite a downpour of rain and with mud-slicked boots from traipsing around stalls at the Velodrome, I still couldn’t hide the smile that had fixed itself onto my face the entire day.

Soon, the women would arrive at the Roubaix velodrome to cross the finish line of the first ever Paris-Roubaix Femmes. They would make history. Every single one of them.

Eventually, a building symphony of helicopter rotors told us the race was approaching. And then... they were here. Lizzie Deignan raised her blood-covered hands in the air to the waiting spectators. Marianne Vos entered the beckoning jaws of the Vélodrome André Pétrieux just as the Trek-Segafredo rider finished. My heart swelled, emotions unmatched to anything I had experienced before. 

Every rider had their own story to tell, amassed over punishing cobblestones and hellish weather conditions. Team BikeExchange’s Teniel Campbell and Jessica Allen crossed the line with hands on each other’s shoulders in support. Margaux Vigie of Valcar Travel & Service spotted her loved ones in the grandstand and pedalled to the top of the track to share the historic moment with them.

The journey had not been the easiest. While on the day it was 116 kilometres, it had also been 125 years. The inaugural edition of Paris-Roubaix Femmes preceded the 118th edition of the men’s race. Disparity remained evident in prize money too; the winner would receive €1,535 in comparison to the men’s €30,000 (though Trek-Segafredo made up the difference themselves).

But girls were able to know they could ride Paris-Roubaix. They could write their own history and smash their glass ceilings. Before the race, a little girl was spotted taking on the five-star Carrefour de l’Arbre. She was then able to see the women’s peloton ride across it. This is why representation matters.

The beauty of Paris-Roubaix is one wrapped up in a historic legacy, and one that leaves our minds almost shortcircuiting with possibilities for the next one.

‘Twas the night before Roubaix-Weekend. And anything can happen…