The Paris-Roubaix peloton had not yet left Compiègne (Oise) but 240 kilometers further north, at the Carrefour de l’Arbre, a horde of motorhomes and cycling fans were already waiting for them. But you have to be patient, at the end of the morning of Sunday, April 17, for these few seconds of happiness, the moment when the runners brush up against the spectators. The junior edition step allows repeat vocalizations. We sang. We drink. Some play Molki (Finnish bowling game). Others kick a soccer ball. We take a look at the giant screen installed nearby and which broadcasts the event… This year the queen of the classics has returned to her spring calendar, and to her fair air.
Jean-Baptiste Ginnet, 41 years old and from Wattrelos a good ten kilometers away, is a “regular”. He has been following the roadside race for several years. With the phone in hand, he attentively follows the live event, counts the cobbled sections and indulges in the game of estimating the scheduled route. This Sunday, things are going fast. Also see the predictions of the Amaury sport organization (ASO), the organizer of Paris-Roubaix – on learning about the trains that have a current hour of 45.8 km/h as the fastest edition of the ‘history. His father, Bruno, relies more on signs than scholarly calculations. “Do you see the bell tower in the distance? It is the church of Bouvines. When the helicopter gets to that point, you know it’s imminent: they go back there and then they’re there.”develops, uniting the action to the word.
The 2022 edition of Paris-Roubaix was no exception: the last of the three five-star cobblestone sectors – the highest level of difficulty – remains one of the favorite places for spectators to follow the race on the roadside. . “Be careful with the Carrefour de l’arbre, there are many, many people”Radio-Tour crackles as the first runners approach the area, shortly after 4:20 p.m.
A visible and accustomed Belgian public
Twenty-six nations were represented at this 119me edition, of which the Belgians (46 riders out of 170 competitors) formed by far the largest contingent. Around the cobblestones, it’s hard to say for sure that his compatriots were the most numerous among the spectators. But they were certainly the most visible and the most fervent. Black, yellow and red flag, radios broadcasting in the local language, the public of Plat-Pays is there as a neighbor and often as a regular.
One group stands out in this painting. There are the tricolor wigs, the steaming barbecue, the Jupiler beer cartons and the megaphone too. But we shout in French and instead of the black Flemish lion, it is the red Walloon rooster that accompanies the patriotic colors. Your champion? Philippe Gilbert, winner of the classic in 2019. “It’s his last season”, says Eric Godefroid, delighted that the dean of Lotto-Soudal will wear the number 1 shirt this Sunday after the package of the Italian Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) defending champion. Of course, he had no illusions about the chances of him seeing him raise his arms again at the velodrome of the ‘city of a thousand chimneys’ a few hours later. “We just wanted to tell you: respect and thank you! ». Philippe Gilbert will finish 30me.
Eric and his friends have been coming to the Paris-Roubaix route for several years. Always in the same place. And for good reason: Borrowed by every edition of the Hell of the North since 1980, it’s an integral part of the race’s history. Located in the middle of the countryside, the Carrefour de l’Arbre often ends up brushing against the contenders for the coronation. The geography of the place, its proximity to the goal, but also its difficulty, make it a favorable area for attacks.
“A mythical place”
The saying goes so far as to affirm that the winner is whoever is in the lead of this section, whose last cobblestone is 16 kilometers from the Roubaix velodrome. More legend than truth, but who cares. The famous Auberge du Carrefour de l’Arbre, a red brick tavern typical of the region, previously only open on race day, has long since been replaced by a gourmet restaurant. But the place with its disjointed cobblestones retains all its “hell” aura.
After opting the day before for another paved sector on the occasion of the women’s edition of the raceMarie-Anne and Philippe Clarebout, 68 and 65 years old, settled here this Sunday. “It is a mythical place”, sums up the husband. For a long time, the couple who live near Amiens on the Somme dreamed of taking their motorhome and living ” Really “ the “queen of the classics”. The cobblestones of Carrefour de l’arbre, the sixty-year-old already “tried” them in the past and conserves them “The race lives up to its nickname ‘Hell of the North'”. Beside her, Marie-Anne slips into a smile, He even told me: ‘if I die, don’t forget to put on my tombstone that I made the cobblestones of Roubaix’. »
A few hundred meters away, at the exit of the Gruson three-star sector, runners Rob, 52, and Frank Beuken, 54, were waiting, well installed on a wooden bench. The Dutch brothers made a long journey, the first from Arnhem, the second from The Hague, to attend this race weekend. The day before they were at the Vélodrome hoping to see their compatriot Marianne Vos (Jumbo-Visma) win, after hers 2me place in 2021. Bad luck: tested positive for Covid-19, had to resign a few hours before departure.
If they hoped to wish this time a coronation of Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) or the Belgian Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Vismo), they will be able to take comfort in the victory of another of their fellow citizens: Dylan van Baarle (Ineos-Grenadiers). He who, however, trusted, after his coronation, “I hate cobblestones.”