The fabled Arenberg forest section of cobbles has been dropped from Paris-Roubaix because of damage
PICTURE BY TDWSPORT.COM On Wednesday afternoon it seemed no more than a highly unlikely eventuality, but last night ASO, organisers of Paris-Roubaix, confirmed that the infamous Arenberg forest section of cobbles will not feature in this year’s ‘hell of the north’ because of subsidence on a 200-metre section of pav. The section has been affected by mining works previously undertaken at the nearby coal-mining pit. “The state of the cobbled surface has deteriorated considerably in the last few years,” said a statement from ASO, which went on to say that the subsidence was caused by the formation of an underground lake beneath the forest. “A thick film of moisture constantly lies on the cobbles there because of the humid conditions making that section a real danger for the riders,” the statement added. Although this is not good news for fans of this most individual of events, it is balanced by an announcement by ASO that there will still be an additional two kilometres of cobbles in this year’s race compared to the 2004 edition – giving a total of 53.2km on the pav. One new sector, at Avesnes le Sec, is 2.7km long, more than compensating in terms of length for the loss of the Arenberg. ASO’s statement stressed that the Arenberg, which first featured in the 1968 edition of Roubaix, has not been permanently dropped from the event. ASO are working with the regional authorities in north-east France to find a solution to the subsidence problem, which will probably require the relaying of much of the ‘road’. Several of the riders who have made their names with victories in ‘Hell’ have responded with dismay to the dropping of the Arenberg. Double Roubaix winner and fdjeux.com team manager Marc Madiot told L’Equipe: “I know that there are safety issues that can’t be ignored, but by sanitising things we might end up losing our values. One day Paris-Roubaix will take place on the autoroute. Bike races need that magic – the Arenberg is mythical. It’s like taking the Poggio out of Milan-San Remo. That said, there have been recent editions of the Roubaix without the Arenberg.” 1981 winner Bernard Hinault said, “Today whenever there is a little bit of rain they immediately put the umbrella up. It’s a pity because the Arenberg section is mythical. In any case, they don’t want to take the slightest risk. Today the tendency is towards prudence, maybe too much so in this case.” Another double winner, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, said he thought the decision was hasty, saying it would be comparable to taking all of the mountains out of the Tour de France because Fabio Casartelli died on the Portet d’Aspet. Three-time winner Francesco Moser reckoned that the removal of the Arenberg might make the race more open and possibly more of an attraction to riders such as Lance Armstrong. Whether and how much the character or Roubaix is changed will be revealed on April 10.