Car­refour de l’ar­bre

Not so much a road as a dump­ing ground for blocks of stone, the Car­refour de l’ar­bre per­son­i­fies the glo­ri­ous mad­ness of Roubaix

Cyclist - - Paris - Roubaix | Insight -

‘The Tree Junc­tion’ – or ‘Cross­roads’ – re­ally does sound so much bet­ter in French, doesn’t it? But ban­ish all thoughts of bar­rel­ing your way around the sim­i­larly named French su­per­mar­ket by bike: just as with the Aren­berg, at the Car­refour de l’ar­bre it’s a case of eat or be eaten, hold on or be damned as, with just 15km left to race at this point, what­ever’s left of the Roubaix pelo­ton will thun­der through here at as high a speed as their by-now beaten and bro­ken bod­ies will al­low.

‘The pavé at the Car­refour is so bad,’ says Dutch­man Tris­tan Hoff­man, who fin­ished se­cond to Swede Mag­nus Bäck­st­edt in the 2004 race. ‘The cob­bles are bru­tal – they’re re­ally bru­tal. The road’s 30cm higher in the mid­dle than on the left or right side! Now, as a sports director [for Bahrain-merida], it’s hard for me not to smash the car, but for the riders, you’re tired. If you have any­thing left in the legs, it makes sense to try some­thing there – ab­so­lutely.’

It was at the Car­refour de l’ar­bre sec­tor that the main se­lec­tion of riders was made in 2004, Hoff­man points out: Bäck­st­edt, Jo­han Museeuw, Fabian Can­cel­lara, Roger Ham­mond, Hoff­man and, for a short time, Ge­orge Hin­capie, be­fore he dropped off the pace.

‘I knew from the start that day that I needed to gam­ble,’ re­mem­bers Hoff­man. ‘Well, it was more of a tac­tic ac­tu­ally, know­ing that with a head­wind it’s more dif­fi­cult to stay at the front. So I de­cided to stay calm and wait, and wait. Sud­denly we were ap­proach­ing the fin­ish, and Museeuw had a punc­ture [with 6km to go], I knew it was the mo­ment in my ca­reer to win Paris-roubaix… but it didn’t hap­pen!

‘That day, Bäck­st­edt was a lit­tle bit stronger, but if you looked at our pre­vi­ous re­sults, I think I was a bit of a bet­ter rider in the Clas­sics. Twice be­fore I’d been fourth, so I just lacked that lit­tle bit to put my name to that Mon­u­ment. But he was bet­ter that day, and I was se­cond, and that is how it is,’ he shrugs.

‘At the Car­refour de l’ar­bre, with only 15km to go, is where you ei­ther have it or you don’t have it – or some­body has “it” a lit­tle bit more than you,’ adds Hoff­man’s for­mer CSC team­mate Lars Michaelsen, who was 10th at Roubaix in 1999, and fifth in both 2002 and 2005, and now plies his trade as a sports director at As­tana. ‘The cob­bles are seem­ingly placed at ran­dom at the Car­refour de l’ar­bre, where they seem to get worse and worse every year.’

Af­ter the Aren­berg and Mons-en-pévèle, the Car­refour de l’ar­bre is the third of Roubaix’s three sec­tors of cob­bles rated as five-star – the tough­est to ride, with the gnarli­est stones. And com­ing so close to the end of the race, it’s re­ally no co­in­ci­dence that they are the most sto­ried.

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