If you’ve been paying attention you’d know I was planning on going to watch this year’s Paris - Roubaix race. Well I went and had a great time watching the race.
I took the Eurostar to Lille on Saturday and stayed in a budget Ibis hotel, which was absolutely fine. Clean room and free wifi which is pretty much all I needed. Having never been to Lille before and only catching small glimpses from the Eurostar as it passes through I was under the impression it is a really grim place. Tie that in with the memory of hearing, some years ago now, that it has one of the highest crime rates in France (which I have no idea if that’s correct or not) and it meant I was very pleasantly surprised to discover the historic old town is lovely. I spent Saturday evening pottering around trying to work out which of the many tempting looking restaurants to go to. When I finally picked one I found they were full. As were many of the others! Finally found somewhere to eat though. I’ve now vowed to go back with my wife and have a weekend there (and get a reservation at the place I couldn’t get in to!).
Originally I’d planned to watch the race from the Gruson section of cobbles and that is exactly what I did. I took the metro to the outskirts of Lille then walked a few miles. Not knowing what to expect when I got there I was very happy to find a village hall had set up selling food to passing spectators so stocked up and went to the cobbles. Even better the local council had set up a huge screen at the start of the cobbled section, by the Restaurant l’Arbe, where loads of people were congregating.
Aerial shot of the giant screen by the Pave L'Arbe
My original blog post was incredibly prophetic as I did end up getting drunk with some Belgian cycling fans that befriended me and supplied me with quite a few beers. These included Omer which is an 8% blond beer that went down far too nicely. The Belgian chaps then started a drinking game where everytime the TV commentator said Bradley Wiggins we had to down the rest of our bottles. Given it was French TV they said Bradley Wiggins an awful lot!
As the race approached I went down to get a spot along the side of the cobbles. There was the usual mounting excitement as the number of police bikes passing increased and the helicopters overhead were getting closer. When the leading group of riders went by they did so surprisingly fast. Incredibly fast even. The looks on the riders faces were of steely determination. It looked hard and fast and hot and dusty. Due to the nature of the race the riders came by in small groups or by themselves. I was by the road for 20 mins after the leaders went by and the broom wagon hadn't passed. There was an awful crash where a spectator stepped out in front of a Lotto Soudal rider and he went full speed into them. The rider somersaulted over and leapt back on the bike and was off but the spectator (who was at fault) looked like they got knocked out cold. :(
Then I headed back and got the Eurostar home while feeling rather worse for wear after the beers and the sunshine. There were a LOT of Belgian, Dutch and British cars parked up around Gruson so I guess a lot of people had made the daytrip. At Eurostar check in the number of Rapha tops being worn was ridiculously high. It seemed there were a lot of cycling journalists and industry types going home. The train ended up being about 30 minutes late getting to London which was a nightmare for me as I had a cheap ticket to Hove that could only be used on a specific train from Victoria and that train was leaving 15 minutes after we pulled in. Somehow with a lot of running and luck I made it from Eurostar platform in St Pancras to platform 17 at Victoria with 30 seconds to spare.
I’m already planning going again and that time taking my bike with me too.