Total MX-5 - - ROAD TRIP -

You will have to al­low a slight in­dul­gence. Last is­sue’s road trip saw us fol­low the Tour of Bri­tain bike race, so no apolo­gies for a side­bar of cy­cle race sight­see­ing here. It’s my ‘thing.’

It’s prob­a­bly ap­pro­pri­ate that through the same war-torn flat­lands of France and Flan­ders, the an­nual Paris-roubaix bike race runs. Equally ap­pro­pri­ate, it’s dubbed ‘The Hell of the North’ and as the Queen of pro­fes­sional cy­cling’s one-day ‘Mon­u­ment’ events, se­cond only to the Tour de France in terms of fame and rep­u­ta­tion. Its hellish no­to­ri­ety comes from the nu­mer­ous cob­bled sec­tions of road that the riders must en­dure en route from the cos­mopoli­tan French cap­i­tal to the in­dus­trial min­ing town of Roubaix on the French/bel­gian bor­der, where the race con­cludes with two laps of the Roubaix out­door velo­drome. The race route passes many of the in­fa­mous place names of the Great War: Ar­ras and Cam­brai, Lille, Amiens, the River Somme it­self and the grave­yards that line the high­ways. It’s prob­a­bly as close as any sport will get to hon­our­ing the men of WW1.

The race can be won and lost on the ar­row-straight stretch of bumpy cob­bles that runs through the For­est of Aren­berg, and onto which the massed pelo­ton en­ters at 40mph+. A kilo­me­tre later and the race can be ripped apart or ut­terly de­stroyed if it hap­pens to be rain­ing. Which isn’t un­heard of…

We ar­rive to pay our dues to cy­cling’s he­roes and again the dank, Novem­ber weather just adds to the am­biance, with the mist and fine driz­zle hang­ing in the trees. The cob­bles are each the size of a baby’s head and slip­pery as hell. Over the years (1896 to the present day, save for World Wars One and Two, of course) all sorts of spe­cial bikes have been con­cocted to deal with the abuse, but there’s only so much a svelte rac­ing bike can do to pro­tect a rider and it’s a spe­cial breed that wins the Paris-roubaix. It’s no co­in­ci­dence that more French and Bel­gian riders from the lo­cal en­vi­rons have been vic­to­ri­ous here than any other na­tion­al­ity: brave and tal­ented chaps.

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