This Spring Classics season we selected 7 locations along the routes of the legendary one day races to define their significance in cycling history.
Escape from Hell
There are only three five-star sections of pavé in Paris-Roubaix – Mons-en-Pévele, the Troueé d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre. These are the most ridiculously brutal and gnarly pieces of road that the professional peloton will encounter all year. Each has its own challenges. The approach to the Arenberg is slightly downhill, so the riders hit it fast and hard, and its forest location can make the road damp. At Mons there are some horribly rutted sandy bends. The Carrefour de l’Arbre section is unique because it is changing over time, deteriorating in its condition, at least that’s what the organisers claimed a few years ago.
The setting of the Battle of Bouvines in the Anglo-French War of 1214, the track runs for 2.1km across open farmland. After some initial bends to exit the village of Camphin-en- Pévele, the section is fairly straight. The difficulty lies in the combination of misshapen stones, a pronounced crown that wants to send you sliding into the gutter, and a very slight uphill gradient. If Mons, usually 48km from Roubaix, is selective, Carrefour de l’Arbre is often decisive. It comes just 15km from the velodrome and makes an ideal launching pad for attacks. If you have the legs.
It was on the Carrefour de l’Arbre that John Van Summeren broke free in 2011, while behind Fabian Cancellara’s pursuing effort was frustrated by motorbikes getting in his way. In 2009 Tom Boonen was last man standing by the end of the section after his breakaway companions crashed. Two-time winner in 1985 and 1991 Marc Madiot waited until the Carrefour de l’Arbre on both occasions before making his decisive acceleration.
There is only one way out of the Hell of the North, and only the strongest can survive it.