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
‘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.