The idea arose directly from the pandemic, from its consequences in the emblematic cobbled sector of the countryside. The race, canceled in 2020, was postponed to October of the following year. For thirty months, the 2,300 meter straight, with 276,000 (estimated) cobblestones, remained deserted by racing bikes.
“It took us by surprise when we realized after two years without using that the grass had grown back in incredible quantities. We only had one solution, to do a deep cleaning to remove all the grass,” Thierry Gouvenou, “Monsieur Paris-Roubaix” within ASO, the organizing company.
“We started thinking about other more ecological solutions. So, eco-pastoralism, regularly bringing sheep to the Trouée to eat the grass that grows naturally”, adds the race director.
High place of Paris-Roubaix of which it is the international symbol since 1968, the Trouée d’Arenberg is a classified site, managed by the ONF (National Forestry Office). Strictly protected, due to a nearby ornithological reserve, prohibited to vehicles and only frequented by hikers.
“In agreement with the ONF, the municipality of Wallers and the Porte du Hainaut agglo community, we are going to make an attempt. The ONF is used to working with people who practice ecological grazing on certain sites,” explains Thierry Gouvenou.
“Better for everyone”
What volume of herd? How long does grazing last? What step frequency? “There are still details to be finalized,” replies the race director. “We are not 100% sure of our play, but we want to test this operation. We feel that the growth of the grass is overwhelming us and, if we do nothing, we cannot pass the race”.
The calendar foresees a start-up as early as this summer, at the time of the most important surge. “If we get to a clean gap at the beginning of winter, we will be calm next spring,” said Thierry Gouvenou. “Then a little last-minute sweeping will suffice and it will be much better for everyone, both economically and ecologically.”
Are there herds near Wallers? “Associations in the region carry out this type of operation. We could also be supported by the FNSEA (main agricultural union), we have solutions”, affirms the director of the race without hiding the problems that remain to be solved: “We must find a place to house animals at night. We are also in an area where there are many pedestrian crossings. We have to manage to find a good collaboration between the animals and the walkers”.
“The peculiarity of Arenberg is that there is no passage of cars, tractors, vehicles. That is why nature also recovers its rights more easily,” he underlines, evoking the win-win side of the next operation: “We are in nature, we put animals to eat grass and that allows the cycling race to develop better, with greater safety”.