Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Arenberg Trench

Watching Stage 5 of this years Tour brought me back to when we went over to see the similar stage in 2010. It seems like another age now as we watched pre-admission Lance chasing after the leaders following a puncture, or Sylvain Chavanel on his Yellow and Green bike reflecting his leadership in both coloured jersey classifications, or the champions jersey train of the World Champion, Cadel Evans, and the British Champion , Geraint Thomas, sandwiching the Norwegian Champion Thor Hushovd as he rode to victory on the stage.

For me, one of the highlights of that trip was the chance to see, in person, the famed Arenberg Trench. This stretch of cobbles has earned an almost mythical reputation as the key sorting-out point of the Paris-Roubaix classic. It is here, usually in the rain and mud of a northern French April, that the race comes alive. While the winner is seldom decided in the Arenberg Trench, most of the losers definitely are.

Alternatively known as the Trouée d'Arenberg, the Tranchée d'Arenberg or the Trouée de Wallers Arenberg, the "road" in question is located in the heart of the coal mining region of the Nord-Pas-De-Calais. In fact it was ex-miner, World Road Race Champion and team-mate of Shay Elliott, Jean Stablinski, who introduced the organisers to the road after becoming the first man to ride it in 1968.

At 2.4km, it's not only a long stretch of pavé by Paris-Roubaix standards, but it's also very, very rough! In fact, as someone who comes from a city with some remaining cobbled streets and having ridden the cobbles of Flanders, I'd be reluctant to call the stones of the Arenberg Trench cobbles at all. You could be forgiven for thinking they're just a flattened pile of stones left after some long-forgotten construction project.

But, as well as the roughness, the surprising thing for me was the gradient. I had always assumed that the "Trench" part of the name came from the fact that the road cuts through the forest, giving the feeling of riding along a trench. In  fact, the name comes from the road having the profile of a trench, dropping from either end to a low point almost exactly half way along. Riders thunder downhill into the trench but the difficulty comes in the second half where they have to try to maintain their momentum for the climb back out.

We didn't get to ride it in 2010, but we did walk the full length. My sore hips were bad enough after that. I can't imaging what I'd be like after racing through.

I took some video on my phone which hopefully will give you some idea of just how rough the stones are on this iconic stretch of cycling history.

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1 comment:

  1. Reading your article and watching the video I have got a clear highlights of the trip of Arenberg Trench.