Arenberg Forest to remain in 2011 Paris-Roubaix
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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Arenberg Forest to remain in 2011 Paris-Roubaix

by Ben Atkins at 10:53 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Paris-Roubaix
Infamous cobbled sector stays in the race despite rumours to the contrary

paris-roubaixThe infamous Trouée d’Arenberg cobbles are to feature in the 2011 Paris-Roubaix course after all, according to Het Nieuwsblad. It was rumoured that the 2.4km stretch of cobblestones, one of only three rated as five stars by the race organiser, was to be pulled from the race amid concerns that its uneven surface was becoming too dangerous.

The entrance to the sector saw the finish of stage 3 of this year's Tour de France, won by Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam) although the race did not cross it.

The announcement that the notorious sector might be excluded was, inadvertantly, made in October when Joel Lainé, the organiser of the amateur Paris-Roubaix Challenge reportedly told the press that his event was not crossing Arenberg because the pro race wasn’t going to. Local counsils objected to the apparent decision though, as the cobblestones of Arenberg provide one of the key elements of the race for many people; the 2.4km dead straight road also provides some of the most iconic images of the race.

The route originally proposed was to take in the 2.6km sector between Aulnoy-lez-Valenciennes and Famars (known as chemin des Postes) instead; those cobbles were used in the 2005 race, won by Quick Step’s Tom Boonen, the last time the Arenberg “Trench” was passed over. Because of the local mining works the surface is prone to regular subsidence, meaning that it has to be repaired regularly. After missing out in 2005 the surface was repaired by local volunteers and returned to the race the followig year.

The route currently being proposed could both Arenberg and Famars; the good news for some – and bad news for others – though, is that this would likely mean the removal of the 1.7km sector between Capelle-sur-Ecaillon and Le Buat.

For riders and fans alike the Arenberg Forest is the very essense of Paris-Roubaix. The sector was discovered by former World champion Jean Stalinski, who’d previously worked as a miner in the area, and added to the race in 1968. The tarmacking of the traditional cobbled roads of the northeast of France was robbing the race of its character and so the race organisers sought to find as many local roads and farm tracks as possible to restore the cobblestones to the race.

For many years the local people were reluctant to cooperate, feeling that the terrible roads reflected badly on their towns and villages. As the race has enjoyed more and more popularity over the years though the pavé du Nord have become a part of the region’s heritage and more sectors are found all the time; sometimes literally having the asphalt surface peeled away from them.

Cobbled sectors can be tough and expensive to maintain though, many them only used by tractors in the other 364 days of the year. The Wallers sector which traditionally followed Arenberg, featuring the iconic “Pont-Gibus” – the now redundant railway bridge dedicated to two-time winner Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle – has been declared unusable for the last two years due to having too much mud on its poor surface; the local council has reportedly said that it will cost €500,000 to put right.

As well as providing some of the most iconic images in the race, Arenberg has also been the cause some of he most controversial incidents. The most notorious recent example happened in 1998 when Johan Museeuw, who’d won the Ronde van Vlaanderen the weekend before, crashed on the muddy surface, shattering his kneecap.


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