Paris Roubaix is without doubt one of the best races in the European, if not the world, road racing calendar. It has big drama, big teams, big riders, easy access to teams and an ability to watch the race in many places. If you know what you’re doing. The race breaks up so there’s plenty of action to watch.
Many people go and do the sportif, but few go and watch the race. Properly.
If you’re planning on going to watch it here’s my brief guide to watching it and loving it.
Plan your race day positions by downloading the route map and working out some good stops. Also download and print out the race timings. You will need both. I’ve stopped at Quievy secteur 26 &27, Arenberg Trench, Orchie 12, secteur 16 & Carrefour de l’arbre 4. Just consider: Can you get there easily from the motorway and away again? Read a guide for which ones are where the action heats up. Those ones are all ace. Aim for 3 secteurs well spaced out e.g. Quievy, Arenberg and Carrefour de L’arbre. Top Tip#1: Download an offline map to your mobile and mark your secteurs so you know where you are. You may need to go down some small, bumpy roads. Try Viewranger or Google maps.
Top Tip#2 Take a skilled navigator and a skilled driver…. You will need both.
Sign on the day before in Compiegne chateau square. This isn’t advertised at all but is a great place for #prostalking and souvenir collecting. Many of the world’s top teams wander from their buses to the stage to meet the crowd. Top tip#3 Hang around behind the stage near where the buses stop and get your favourite pros autograph as they step off the bus. Take children. They stop for kids. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Except Sagan. He is mobbed as soon as the bus is spotted.
a. Park near the town centre but with easy access out to the motorway A1 north. You’ll need this later. You can park north of the town or west of the town; either will do.
b. Get there early and wander among the team buses rolling up and parking along Avenue Royale. More close up chats and autographs to be had.
The caravanne is rubbish. Miss it.
c. Watch the start somewhere. Run to your car and get on the A1 north. Enjoy being passed by team cars. Stop at the first service station for a pee and rub shoulders with the fans and teams.
d. Keep moving fast. Time ticks away. Head to your first secteur. No radio, don’t speak French? Get a good data pack and keep track of the race on Twitter.
e. This is where the fun starts. Are you ahead of the race? Look for the helicopters. When you are close you will suddenly find loads of cars just dumped in the middle of nowhere. Park. Quick. Then run towards your secteur stop. Follow the hoards of fans drinking beer that appear from nowhere. Keep an eye on the helicopters and approaching dust cloud and your eye on that race timing.
f. Top Tip #4 Step back. They come faster than you imagine and sometimes right along that path you’re standing on. I’ve seen people fall back into ditches getting out of the way. Marvel at the state of the cobbles and the speed of the riders.
g. Race gone. Get moving. Quickly, join the hoards of team helpers and fans heading out. Top Tip #5 Park at the edge of the car parking melee like I said so you don’t get stuck in the queue.
h. If going to Arenberg head to the North at junction 4 of A23. Again park straight away and walk. Walk a good 200m along the trench and you will find plenty of space. The best bits will be rammed but elsewhere there is space.
i. Get back on the A23. Head North but time your journey so you are on the motorway at the exact moment the race crosses and goes along side the motorway between secteurs 15 and 14. Top Tip#6 Drive slowly! People literally stop on the motorway to watch (and then pull out without looking. You’re in France)
j. Top Tip#7 Carrefour de L’Arbre 4 is where the final selection is often made and is easy access from the motorway at J23 on A27.
k. Watching the end of the race. You’ve done so well you want to know who’s going to win right? Well you could head to velodrome. Getting to it is an almighty effort but very worth it. You'll have to follow your nose and your navigator will need to make quick decisions as roads get closed and the signs are trying to keep you away. This is where bikes on the back are handy. We chanced our arm into East Roubaix sneaking past 'closed roads', parked the car a couple of miles away and rode down a cycle path straight to the Velodrome. (Somehwere about here
https://goo.gl/maps/vy1mdWUWfJu ). Its extremely busy but find a way in, the North East end is a good place, and sit on the weird bush plant that takes the place of seats. Try and get a view of the big screen and cheer the winner and array of broken riders.
The team buses park here afterwards for close up views of the riders: Avenue du Parc des Sports
We've also headed to a French hotel in Orchies, Hotel Restaurant Le Manoir, which is a cycling hotel and will have it on in the bar. British Cycling have even stayed there. Last year we simply crammed round a tv by the side of le Carrefour de L’arbre with dozens of drunk Belgian fans. Very welcoming!
l. Post race excitement. Top Tip#8 If you’re a #prostalker head to Kortrijk in Belgium and wander by Hotel Messeyne. It’s where Team Sky stay. They will be partying as it’s the end of the classics. You might even bump into a drunk Luke Rowe outside having fag. It’s also a nice town with a fair on that weekend in the town square.
m. Drink beer. Come back next year.