When it comes time to review something like this year's parcours for Paris-Roubaix, the first place to look is last year's course. We've clicked a lot of keys in the service of describing course changes this year, and we aren't done. But the Queen of the Classics isn't your average parcours subject, for two reasons: the course is the star of the show, and it doesn't change much. Apart from some hollow threats about too much moss on the Forest of Arenberg secteur, no big changes were planned this year. The cobbles secteurs appear to be identical to 2011, the distance is either the same or a few hundred meters longer, depending on whether people are rounding out numbers. There isn't much to say beyond last year...
And we said a lot last year.
On the flip, I have cut-and-pasted our visually-aided secteur-by-secteur review of the course. If you weren't around then, or want to up your knowledge of the pave, go on the flip and feast away!
27. Troisvilles (km 98 - 2200 m) ***
Downhill on the cobbles... this is a good way to get out your early terrors. Said to be in good shape.
26. Viesly (km 104.5 to 1800 m) ***
Straight and generally lacking in surprises.
25. Quievy (km 107 to 3700 m) ****
They're not big bruisers. On the other hand, 3700 meters is forever, and there's a long, slow uphill drag. Also, I bet these stones get pretty slick on a wet day:
24. Saint-Python (km 115.5 to 1500 m) **
Unless the internet is lying to me, there is no actual St. Python. Too bad; I was never all that inspired by the stories of the saints. Maybe if one of them had been named after a deadly snake or a troupe of British comedy geniuses, I would have paid more attention. Anyway, these 1500 meters are still just preamble.
23. Vertain (km 119.5 to 2300 m) ***
No doubt the distance is the issue. Also, at this point the cobbled secteurs are starting to feel a bit relentless, you'd think. This secteur makes it 9.3km of stones from km 104 to 121.
22. Capelle-sur-Ecaillon - Le Buat (km 126.5 to 1700 m) ***
Interesting section, it starts with a 4% descent and then a long 7% uphill, the steepest of the cobbled secteurs. It was only unearthed from a farmer's field in time for the 2005 race. The dust will be flying here:
21. Aulnoy-lez-Valenciennes - Famars (km 142.5 to 2600 m) *****
The first of two consecutive sectors which are being returned to the race after an absence of... here the info gets a little murky. I'm also a little short on details as to why they rate five stars. But this is probably the first big moment of the race. Still 120km from the velodrome, this secteur kicks off a brutal stretch of four secteurs in quick succession, 8km of stones in 12km of riding.
20. Famars - Quérénaing (km 146 - 1200 m) **
The other returning/mystery secteur.
19. Quérénaing - Maing (km 149 - 2500 m) ***
Up and down a bit. In good condition.
18. Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (km 152 to 1600 m) ***
Apparently there are some big holes early on, but after that it's more of the same:
17. Haveluy (km 164 to 2500 m) ****
The "Secteur Bernard Hinault," named after the famous Bretagne who hated this race. Maybe the Haveluiennes named it after him following a night of drunken revelry. Anyway, Pete and I rode it, it's one of the classic dug-out-of-a-field secteur, with a high crown in the middle and cobbles on the perimeter in varying stages of fading back into "field" status. Actually, even the crown is grassy. Anyway, this is where Garmin came a-cropper last year, and between that and our recon I can tell you that the stones are OK but there's plenty of treachery lurking.
16. Arenberg Trench (km 172 to 2400 m) *****
Any questions? Truly one of the greatest scenes in cycling.
Also, the race is most certainly on at this stage. The stones are pretty difficult to deal with; the crown comes and goes; and there are plenty of holes to add a layer of treachery. Whatever riders say about Arenberg (not considered the worst), it does hurt. Of that 2400 meters probably 1500 is slightly uphill on bad stones which keep you on high alert.
15. Millonfosse - Bousiginies (km 178.5 to 1400 m) ***
First Second time! No pictures seem to exist on the web [Update! They do now], but this secteur could have a deep impact on the race. In past years, the next secteur didn't start until 10km after Arenberg, but this time around riders will have less than 4km to recover before hitting Millonfosse, then another 3.5km before the next double-whammy sector. We make much of this cobble or that sector, but the cumulative effect is what separates out most of the chaff.
14. Brillon a Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes (km 183.5 to 1100 m) ** Tilloy - Sars-et-Rosieres (km 186 to 2400 m) ***
Good god, another 3.5km? By this point in the race the riders might not care about anything less than the four-star, seriously bumpy stuff, which this isn't. You can see some pics here and a video of the second portion here.
13. Beuvry-la-Foret - Orchies (km 192.5 - 1400) ***
The "Secteur Marc Madiot," it consists of 700 meters of unearthed cobbledy madness and 700 meters of new stones, laid down for the race prior to the 2007 edition. You can see a little slideshow of the secteur here.
12. Orchies (km 197.5 to 1700 m) ***
Not banging, but muddy (or dusty) and irregular. Kind of a messy stretch. though no big crown in the middle:
11. Auchy-lez-Orchies - Bersée (km 203.5 to 2600 m) ***
Recent repairs get this secteur a modest rating, but it looks like more dust and pounding the pave. Strategic importance is very high, since it precedes the Mons-en-Pevele secteur by just a few km.
10. Mons-en-Pévèle (km 209 to 3000 m) *****
On the podium of famous secteurs, along with Arenberg and Carrefour de l'Arbe.
9. Mérignies - Avelin (km 215 to 700 m) **
A mere trifle.
8. Pont-Thibaut (km 218.5 to 1400 m) ***
Dirty, big crown, lots of grass for slippage. Crikey:
7. Templeuve l'Epinette (km 224 to 200 m) * Le Moulin de Vertain (km 224.5 to 500 m) **
More classic Paris-Roubaix cobbles, unearthed for the 2002 race and now a fixture in the race. Not bruisers but narrow and slick. Also, the crown is a tad pronounced, making it easy to slide sideways if you're not in position. The good news is that at this point in the race there won't be any peloton to speak of.
6. Cysoing - Bourghelles (km 231 to 1300 m) **** Bourghelles - Wannehain (km 233.5 to 1100 m) ***
The Secteur Duclos-LaSalle, it's got a nasty stretch with some holes on the side, but mostly it's comparatively regular and manageable. The crown is pretty mellow, at least.
5. Camphin en Pévèle (km 238 to 1800 m) ****
Same old... the last 300 meters get bad.
4. Carrefour de l'Arbre (km 241 to 2100 m) *****
This really has to be the worst of it, right? Cobbles are irregular, the crown is a mess, there's mud or dust a-plenty, and the strategic importance is through the roof. Also, check out the puddle to the right. That's a race-ending pothole right there. Maybe even a collarbone if you hit it just right.
3. Gruson (km 243 to 1100 m) **
After what's just gone down, this is child's play.
2. Hem (km 250 - 1400 m) **
Least of anyone's problems by now.
1. Roubaix (km 258 to 300 m) *
Some of the coolest cobbles in the world:
But they aren't hard.
Photos by Chris Fontecchio except where otherwise indicated