Paris-Roubaix: In the Forest of Arenberg

As anyone who follows us on Twitter will know, Midge and I made an April pilgrimage to the Forest of Arenberg on Roubaix Sunday. As we were making the trip back to our hotel, we thought that it might be fun to do a little post about it – and about why we went to that specific place – almost an interview with ourselves. So here it is:  

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Paris-Roubaix and the Forest of Arenberg – why did you want to go there specifically and what is the significance of the place for you? 

Kathi: Roubaix is my favourite race in the cycling calendar and I find the Forest of Arenberg so intriguing. I remember watching my first Roubaix on TV and when they started going through, I just thought, ‘WHAT is THAT?’ It just strikes my heart. This year, I had to go because it was the last time I would ever have the chance to see Cancellara and Boonen ride through at the same time. I wanted to see them both there at full gas, as they’re the reasons I started watching the race in the first place.

Midge: Ever since my love affair with the cobbled classics began I have wanted to go to Paris-Roubaix, more so than Flanders even. It’s the brutality of the flat. The way the selections are made without a hellingen in sight. When we discussed our expedition way back in January, Arenberg was the first name on both our lips. For me it’s the legend and aura that swirls along the trench. All those images and stories that swept me away, and I’m pleased to say it is EXACTLY as I hoped it would be.

What surprised you most about the day?

Midge:  I knew I would cheer for every single rider, I had not expected it to be so hard to watch the suffering of those at the back of the field. That thousand yard stare, fighting with everything they had to stay in the race and seeking for some relief amongst the juddering nightmare of haphazard rocks. It felt like we were witnessing a personal and very private battle.

Kathi: I was surprised at how narrow the actual path was and how close they were when they went past. The races I’ve been to in the past have always been barriered so you are always a certain distance away. This was so immediate, almost intimate – just like Midge says, it’s like we were witnessing something very personal and very private. It was amazing.

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What was your favourite part of the day? 

Kathi: Besides seeing the riders go through (with such pain faces!), I think it was standing in that forest on a beautiful day. Before the race got to the sector, the air was filled with birdsong and it was really quite magical. Then when the riders did come through, all hell broke loose, and when they left, the birds were still singing and it was as if nothing happened. I absolutely loved that.

Midge: Snap with the riders and ditto with the birdsong, that part was truly magical. The icing on the cake for me was meeting a family of Danes who come to Roubaix every year and talking Danish racing and riders with them – I even pronounced some of the names correctly.  I left with such a smile on my face – I hope they didn’t think I was too mad.

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Did anything not meet your expectations? Did you feel you missed anything? 

Midge: No, not really – well apart from not seeing Matti Breschel of course. Next year this WILL happen.

Kathi: I was very clear as to what I wanted to see – Boonen and Fabs riding over those cobbles and I was not disappointed. Everything else was a bonus for me.

If you went again, what would you do differently? 

Kathi: I don’t know if I will go again but if I did, I would plan it all a bit more meticulously. You can do Roubaix without a car, but it’s tricky.

Midge: Oh I will definitely go to Paris-Roubaix again and I know in my heart that the Forest of Arenberg will draw me back. You’re right about the planning and the car, Kathi: it’s possible to get there by train, but impossible to go anywhere else afterwards. But you know what? I wasn’t sad about that at all. I think if you go to watch a race, you should do so in the expectation that you see a snapshot of glittering excitement when they pass you, hold on to that and have no regrets. As the Little Sparrow trilled so powerfully – Je ne regrette rien.

The Forest of Arenberg in five words

Midge: An aura of legendary exploits

Kathi: Intimate, spectacular, timeless, memorable, thrilling

Header image: The cobbles of Arenberg ©Getty Images/Bryn Lennon


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