19 April 2014

World-class startlist forming for Tour of California

2014 Amgen Tour of California

If you are a fan of cycling and live anywhere near California, even if you don't live anywhere near California - go to the tour this year. The race is amassing quite the collection of riders.

It was officially announced today that Mark Cavendish is returning to California after an absence of 4 years! The last time Cavendish raced in California was 2010 when he was wearing that yellow and white Highroad muscle jersey. That's a long time in a cycling fan's world.

Who else is racing at the Tour of California - oh it only gets better: Peter Sagan, Jens Voigt, Bradley Wiggins, Matthew Busche, Laurens Ten Dam, Lawson Craddock, Joe Dombrowski, Peter Stetina, Christian Knees, John Degenkolb, Ted King, Haimar Zubeldia, Taylor Phinney, Jasper Stuyven, Tom Danielson, Rohan Dennis and more.
Final rider startlist for ATOC to be released very soon, preliminary startlist by ProCycling Stats.

Meanwhile the teams were announced:

WorldTour teams racing at the 2014 Amgen Tour of California:
Garmin Sharp
Trek Factory Racing,
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Team Sky

Domestic Pro Continental teams:
Team Novo Nordisk
German Team NetApp-Endura 

Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies
Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home
Jelly Belly (team of US Pro champion Fred Rodriguez)
Bissell Development Team

I will be there!

I know, didn't you just read that I was attending the Grande Partenza of the Giro d'Italia in Belfast this year? That is correct, but that won't keep me from returning to California to catch the last three stages of the tour this year. I even got approval for photo credentials, which I am thrilled about. I love love the Tour of California, it's the best holiday of the year.

I have already updated and started adding to my annual TOUR OF CALIFORNIA Pedal Dancer Fan Guide Page. More information coming, of course.

Want to see some photos from last year? Or do you just want to see a picture of Mark Cavendish in that muscle jersey?

Okay, Mark it is, circa 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

Come on, we can't talk Amgen Tour of California without a photo of Peter Sagan - he is like the Grand Marshall of the race. But Mark Cavendish is returning to the golden state to challenge this young wheelie popping sprinter.

Peter Sagan in Escondido, California, 2013.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
And then there is crowd favorite Jens Voigt

Jensie making the day of yet another happy fan in Snowmass, Colorado, 2013.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
Ted King - Mr. Personality (Recommended Reading: TED King on what not to say)

Podium Girl Allison Steinkamp and Ted King having fun on the sign-in stage in Murieta, California, 2013.   Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
One of my favorites - Jasper Stuyven, now on the Trek team, will be returning to California.

Jasper Stuyven in Escondido, California, 2013.  Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®

Who are your favorites, chances are good they will be racing in California 21 days from today. Of course any rider racing in the Giro will not be in California, preliminary startlist for the 2014 Giro d'Italia by ProCycling Stats. 

Read more about the race at TOUR OF CALIFORNIA or on the official website http://www.amgentourofcalifornia.com.

Read more about the GIRO ďITALIA

17 April 2014

An American at the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland

I am going to the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland!

This proclamation always elicits a response of puzzlement and then that familiar silent head-tilt as if to say,"Isn't that a long way from Italy?" Yes, the start of the Grand Tour Giro d' Italia is a long way from home in 2014, as the bird flies it is 1660.2 miles away from home soil and all those vineyards. The first three stages of this year's Grande Partenza (Big Start) of the Giro will take place near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Followed by the peloton's return, over a rest day, 1796.4 miles back to Giovinazzo, Italy, where they will resume racing.

Route map of 2014 Giro d' Italia Ireland to Italy


Why is the race in Ireland or why am I going to the race in Ireland? The race is in Ireland because the Northern Ireland Tourist Board spent a lot of effort and money to bid for the start. The tourist board put up £3 million, Belfast Council added £400,000, Failte Ireland £225,000, Dublin City Council £120,000, and Mediolanum International Funds £150,000. The associated events taking place surrounding the Giro are expected to wash the region in more than £2.5 million of economic activity. The goal, I imagine, is to keep those future tourist and economic pounds/euros rolling into Ireland. The full detailed story is here: Why It's heading for Irlanda

Why am I going? I wanted something new and it's Ireland! My family is from Ireland, I am holding an Irish passport in my hands that needs to return to Ireland, the tourist options before and after the race are very appealing to an American, it is NOT in the height of summer travel in Europe (as is the Tour de France), my dog already has a place to stay with family in California (awaiting the Tour of California), and the trip seemed quite doable. Plus my parents had a boat-load of flight miles just waiting to be used (thanks Mom&Dad!).

I have always wanted to see the Giro, but in my mind going to the Giro in Italy would entail combining days at the race with mandatory epic cycling (and since I am no longer the rider I once was since breaking my pelvis, the appeal has lessened). Add the perceived nightmare of accommodations and travel logistics to the required time off of work of at least two to three weeks and the word headache pops to mind. So when I saw that a Team Time Trial (something I have always wanted to see in a grand tour) would be Stage 1 in Northern Ireland, I thought "I'm going," it was that clear.

Plus after reading through all the website information for fans - this looks like tremendous fun! And I really just want to go listen to Irish pub music and drink Guinness beer.

My preferred map of Ireland. Although my grandmother wouldn't approve, she hated when people assumed all Irish drink, she did not. I do.

Okay this is the real map

About the 2014 Giro

This will be the 97th edition. Since 1996 there have been 7 foreign starts to the Giro d'Italia, but this is the first time the race has left Continental Europe. The Giro traditionally begins on a Saturday, but because an extra rest day was needed to transport the riders and staff (although many teams will have staff for Ireland and a separate staff for Italy) back to Italy, this year the Giro begins on a Friday (the team presentation is Thursday).

Dublin hosted the start of the Tour de France in July 1998. It was the same year the Good Friday Agreement was signed a few months earlier that April. 1998 was also the year of the Festina affair when a team soigneur was stopped on the Belgian-French border with illegal doping supplies found inside his car. The start in Dublin began under tremendous controversy. We have come a long way in sixteen years.

Who will be in the pink jersey (maglia rosa) in Belfast? The leader of the winning time trial team on Stage 1 will be awarded the pink jersey (perhaps Pieter Weening or Wout Poels). The jersey will likely change hands to a sprinter after Stage 2. Marcel Kittel will be racing the Giro in 2014, Mark Cavendish will be racing the 1-week Tour of California instead of the 3-week Giro. I hope to see the jersey on the back of a different sprinter after Stage 3, unless the breakaway manages to stay away.

The second week of the Giro is filled with medium mountain stages. The big mountain stages are saved for the third week of racing, when the real winner of the Giro should emerge from the leaders established after the ITT of Stage 12.

This is Titanic Belfast the location of a large exhibit (the architecture is supposed to represent bows of the ships) built to celebrate the port where the ship Titanic was built. Nearby is a large paved area suitable for accommodating team buses and broadcasting trailers and trucks of equipment necessary for the production of an enormous bike race.

Giro Facts
Dates: May 9-June 01 2014
Route: 2014 Giro d'Italia percorsa
21 Stages
22 teams, 9 riders each, 198 total riders (preliminary startlist)

I particularly enjoyed the section on the official Giro guide stating the preferred "wine" of Ireland was Guinness.

Very creative GiroStart cab graphics in Belfast. All this pink lets a visiting fan and cyclist know they are welcome in town.

Planning to see the Giro d'Italia in Ireland 

I hope this post helps you plan your trip to the Giro d'Italia in Northern Ireland.

The initial part of my trip came together quite easily making me realize being a simple tourist is a breeze, combing tourism with an enormous bike race in a foreign country, is a different beast all together. It was refreshing to find flight mileage available for flights and plentiful hotels or friendly B&Bs (unlike France in July). Natural sites and tourist sites appear both relaxing and entertaining. Realizing I have to drive on the wrong side of the road, not so much. 

Next I started planning for the race and was so pleasantly surprised to see tons of information for fans, more than I have ever seen for any race. Can every other race organizer please learn from what the citizens of Ireland have accomplished! Still I began to wonder - does anyone in Northern Ireland do what I do for local races and events? I need a locals perspective.

Race day facts can rarely be found on official Grand Tour websites, they typically leave those details up to local cities. The race organizer's purpose is to promote and market the race itself; they present fancy graphics and videos, and much talk of riders who will attend and who will win. In the case of the Giro, they also use a lot of pink, although a nice color, none of this is of great help to the little guy out on the road. What percentage of fans come from out of town to visit bike races? A lot.

Yes, I plan to discover Northern Ireland. This is Freddie Forte (Strong Freddie) (I'm not sure why they didn't call him Pedaling Paddy) the official character of the Giro Start. Strong Freddie even has a cookbook.

The Giro d'Italia is expected to bring more than 140,000 visitors to Northern Ireland (1.8 mil population)

Northern Ireland has done an excellent job of getting the information out there to fans, although it took some surfing on various websites to make sense of it all.

A lack of detailed information for the cycling fan is traditionally a problem, and is exactly why I began my guide to races like Tour of California (my home state) and USA Pro Challenge (my resident state) and France (my adopted state). Every time I spend 3-hours learning some small detail, I want to share it to save others the time. I want to put my hundreds of hours of research, often learning the hard way how not to do things, to good use.

When it comes to the Giro Start in Belfast, I can happily state Ireland has laid out the red carpet for fans to attend this race.

There is no use reinventing the wheel when it comes to a bike race

Since I am embarking on this trip on my own, Northern Ireland will be another huge learning experience for me. One thing I know for certain is that locals know best. I believe the Irish to be friendly and funny (that is when I can understand them), so I was thrilled to stumble upon a welcoming post by the Old Bleach Cycle Club in Randalstown (http://www.oldbleach.co.uk). In this post the team encouraged visitors to come to the race and welcomed anyone to contact them, so I did. I will gladly accept help from local experts who also happen to be cycling fans and cyclists.

Through the Old Bleach Cycle Club website I discovered the stage guides for the Giro Start Belfast and from there I found much more. A teammate responded promptly to my email and helped answer my questions about where to watch the TTT in Belfast.

The friendly folks from Old Bleach Cycle Club wear these bike jerseys (the pink one is their custom commemorative Giro jersey), if you see them, give them a hug for me.

Schedule and route maps for the start of the 2014 Giro d' Italia:

Giro Big Start Opening Ceremony - Thursday 8 May, Belfast City Hall
17:30, Live outdoor show

Pedal Dancer note: Fortunately I happened to notice on Facebook that I could state my interest in tickets for the event, I then received an email with details to sign up online here (since I am not there in person), in what I imagine will be a huge rush for tickets at 9am on April 24th (2am in Denver!). 

Stage 1 - Friday, May 9 2014, Titanic Belfast - Belfast City Hall
17:45-20:00, TTT 21.7 km (13.48 miles), route map, route profile, official timetable itinerary, stage guide, video tour of Stage 1!

Pedal Dancer note: I had no idea where to watch the TTT in a big city. Thanks to Old Bleach cycle Club and Belfast City Bike Tours, I now have a better feel for the route.

Stage 2 - Saturday, May 10 2014, Titanic Belfast - Belfast (loop route north to Causeway/Antrim)
10:50-16:10, 218 km (135.46 miles), route map, route profile, official timetable itinerary, stage guide, video tour of Stage 2 !

Pedal Dancer note: Seeing a race out on the road is easy, I picked my accommodations to be able to see the nearby final climb for more atmosphere and fun, and less hassle with road closures. 

Stage 3 -  Sunday, May 11 2014, Armagh - Dublin
11:20-16:13, 187 km (116.2 miles), route map, route profile, official timetable itinerary, (better Timetable and road closure schedule reflecting 11:20 start time), stage guide, video tour of Stage 3 !
Pedal Dancer note: Attending a start is usually straight forward. Parking is always a hassle and walking a distance to the start zone is a given, but arriving with team buses is fun. From there it is a matter of being closed out of the best viewing by VIP blockades but working my way around it somehow to a place where I can watch the riders roll back and forth to sign-in. I like the activity at a Start and feel it balances the experiences of attending a TTT, finish or seeing the peloton pass over a climb.

Belfast City Hall

Websites and Files:
Giro d'Italia official complete website
Giro d'Italia Start official website
Giro Start Facebook Page 
GiroBelfast.com (news)
Discover Northern Ireland (lots of info)
Northern Ireland Tourist Board
Business Promotion Brochure
Recommended hikes in Northern Ireland

Armagh Start
Timetable and road closure schedule for Stage 3 in Armagh, UK.  Start Village and assembly point at Shambles Market near Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Roads near market close at 7:00, other nearby road closures in Armagh at 8:30. Team buses arrive at 9:30. Caravan departure at 9:40, Peloton Start at 11:20. Finish in Dublin 14:30 caravan, 16:13 peloton.

Helpful Information:
Giro Italia Essential Guide NI ***** (events, road closures, caravan & peloton timing) 
Giro Fan Park Schedule and Guide, located at Titanic Quarter
Giro d’Italia 2014: a guide for travellers, By Telegraph
The Giro d'Italia for Families 
Giro Festival Belfast Schedule
Free (in advance) Tickets to Opening Event, Team Presentation (Buy Tickets link)
Bella Roma! Rome on Film Presented by QFT (Marco Pantani film on May 8th at 9pm)
Get on Your Bike Festival
2-day Giro Causeway Coast Tour, May 8-9th by Belfast City Bike Tours
Belfast Bike hire
Watch it live online at CyclingFans.com or Steephill.TV
Potential audience of 775 million
22 teams are expected representing 12 countries
The caravan will precede the peloton by 1.5 hours when roads will be closed.

Updates from a friend @RexGlobetrotter also going to the Giro d'Italia:
- The Fan Park will be located at Hamilton Dock, beside SS Nomadic, on Thursday May 8th 13:00-17:30 (before team presentation), also Friday, May 9th 10:00-20:00, and Saturday, May 10th 8:00-18:00.
- The Team Paddock will be located at the slipways behind Titanic Belfast - Friday 9:00-20:00. On Saturday the teams will arrive at the Paddock between 8:30-9:30 for Stage 2 Start. 
- There will be 5 large screen TV at Stormont for fan viewing of the race live.

How to watch the Giro live on TV?
BBC NI to broadcast TV coverage live for all 3 stages of the Giro: Friday, May 9th 18:30 BST; Saturday, May 10th 14:00 BST; Sunday, May11th 14:30 BST.

Rail & Bus: Translink will operate additional capacity on rail and bus services from to get people home following the event.There will be a shuttle train from Central Station and Great Victoria Street to Titanic Quarter Station. Translink will operate a shuttle bus from Belfast city centre to Titanic Slipways from 09:30 onwards.
Bike parking spaces
Road Closures and Traffic
Train Schedules
Buses are available to Stormont, use the route planner at www.translink.co.uk 
Additional shuttle bus available 8:00 throughout the day at park and ride at Airport Road West (Harbour Estate) and Stormont Estate

Giro Contacts
Website: 2014 Giro d'Italia
Twitter: https://twitter.com/giroditalia @giroditalia  #GIRO
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/giroditalia
Facebook - giroditalia
Facebook - GiroStart
Google plus - Giro d'Italia
Instagram - @giroditalia
You Tube - Giro videos 

Teams at the 2014 Giro d'Italia: Preliminary startlist By ProCycling Stats
Australia: Orica-GreenEdge
Belguim: Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-Quick Step
Colombia: Colombia
Denmark: Tinkoff-Saxo
France: Ag2r La Mondiale, Europcar, Fdj.Fr
Great Britain: SKY Team
Italy: Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-CSF, Cannondale, Lampre-Merida, Yellow Fluo.
Kazakhstan: Astana
Netherlands: Belkin, Giant-Shimano
Russia: Katusha
Spain: Movistar
USA: BMC Racing, Garmin-Sharp, Trek Factory Racing

And then of course there are these two magazines that came in the mail this week.

Riders known to be racing the Giro in 2014

Nario Quintana, Cadel Evans, Rigoberto Urán, Samuel Sanchez, Daniel Martin, Ivan Basso, Elia Viviani, André Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Tyler Farrar, Wilco Kelderman, Michele Scarponi, Maxim Monfort, Robert Kiserlovski, Johnny Hoogerland, Pierre Roland, Nicholas Roche. It looks like no Richie Porte. Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins are heading to California for the Tour of California. Chris Horner is very iffy after his crash. 198 total riders (preliminary startlist)

Full Giro route map

This Giro route map might look cool for marketing, but does nothing for the tourist attending the race.

The 21 stages in 2014 will include:
  • 2 Individual time trials
  • 1 Team trial time
  • 8 Flat stages
  • 4 Medium mountain stages with summit finishes
  • 5 High mountain stages with summit finishes
Dates, Cities and distance of 21 stages of the 2014 Giro d'Italia: 

1   9 May, Titanic Belfast - Belfast, 21.7km, Team Time Trial
2  10 May, Belfast – (Causeway & Antrim Coast) - Belfast, 218 km, Flat stage
3  11 May,  Armagh – Dublin, 187 km, Flat stage
R- 12 May, Rest day
4  13 May, Giovinazzo - Bari, 121 km, Flat stage
5  14 May, Taranto - Viggiano, 200 km, Medium-mountain stage
6  15 May, Sassano - Montecassino, 247 km, Medium-mountain stage
7  16 May, Frosinone - Foligno, 214 km, Flat stage
8  17 May, Foligno - Montecopiolo, 174 km, Medium-mountain stage
9  18 May, Lugo - Sestola, 174 km, Medium-mountain stage
R- 19 May, Rest day
10  20 May, Modena - Salsomaggiore, 184 km, Flat stage
11  21 May, Collecchio - Savona, 249 km, Medium-mountain stage
12  22 May, Barbaresco – Barolo, 46.4 km, Individual time trial
13  23 May, Fossano - Rivarolo Canavese, 158 km, Flat stage
14  24 May, Agliè - Oropa, 162 km, Mountain stage
15  25 May, Valdengo - Montecampione, 217 km, Mountain stage
R-  26 May, Rest day
16  27 May, Ponte di Legno - Val Martello (Martelltal), 139 km, Mountain stage
17  28 May, Sarnonico - Vittorio Veneto, 204 km, Flat stage
18  29 May, Belluno - Rif. Panarotta (Valsugana), 171 km, Mountain stage
19  30 May, Bassano del Grappa – Cima Grappa (Crespano del Grappa), 26.8 km, ITT
20  31 May, Maniago – Monte Zoncolan, 167 km, Mountain stage
21  01 June, Gemona del Friuli – Trieste, 169 km, Flat stage

The town of Whitehead north of Belfast where I will be staying to play tourist and fan.

Pedal Dancer's plan for the 2014 Giro d'Italia:

May 6: Arrive into Dublin, pick up a rental car and attempt to change my brain pattern to be able to drive on "the wrong side of the road." Drive north to Newry where my Grandfather Peter Mallon was born in County Armagh, proceed through Belfast to Whitehead where I am staying at a friendly B&B along the coast north of Belfast for five nights. From here I can take a 35-minute train into Belfast. Less time than it would take me to find a parking space in the city.

May 7: Be a tourist in the beauty of Northern Ireland. Drive to the Giant Causeway for a hike, visit the Bushmills distillery (yes, I am a whiskey drinker), climb across the Carrick-a-Rede rope-bridge, see The Dark Hedges, drive down the Glens of Antrim continuing the loop drive back to my B&B in Whitehead.

May 8: Train (train schdule) to Belfast. Pick up my team presentation tickets at Visit Belfast Welcome Centre (which I hope I get by signing up on April 24th at 2am!/ 9am in Belfast here). City Bike Tour with Belfast City Bike Tours to preview the TTT course by bike. visit Dave Kane Cycle and Il Pirata restaurant for a coffee. Attend Team Presentation at City Hall at 17:30-21:00.

May 9:  Train to Belfast, watch the TTT practice 10-12pm in Belfast City.  Titanic Belfast Exhibit & Giro Fan Park.Visit the team bus area, watching the riders warm up. Caravan parade at 16:30. Stage 1 - TTT begins at 17:45. return to B&B in Whitehead.

May 10: Watch the final Class 4 climb (with 23.6 miles to go) of Stage 2 at Knocknaguillagh (Bla Hole) nearby my B&B (road closes at 1:00, caravan 14:00, peloton 15:30, road reopens 16:30).

May 11: Drive to Armagh for the start of Stage 3 at The Mall/Shambles Yard. Team buses arrive at 9:30am. Caravan departs at 9:40, Start at 11:20. Drive SW to Galway Bay area to the small town of Doolin where I will stay at a B&B for two nights. Local pub music in the evening.

May 12: Walking Tour of the Cliffs of Mohar and local sites. Rent a bicycle if weather permits. More local pub music.

May 13: Be a tourist in County Clare (my Grandmother Julia Griffin was actually born south of here in Tralee, County Kerry); return to Dublin.

May 14: Fly back to Los Angeles where the Amgen Tour of California will already be under way with it's entourage traveling from northern California to southern California. A number of key riders will be racing in California in preparation for the Tour de France.

Now this looks fun!

Stage 2, 2014 Giro d'Italia
But this looks a bit intimidating - Stage 1
Where do I go in this big city to watch a bike race? I mean I would hate to end up by an "eyesore."  £605000 Funding Package to Tackle Eyesores before the Giro

If you are an Irish local and can offer me tips, please comment on my Pedal Dancer Cycling Facebook page - thank you, I appreciate your help!

See you at the Giro - in Northern Ireland.
I got to hold the trophy!
There is even a garden guide of what to plant, in a pink palette of course. Giro Pink Planting suggestions. I tell ya, they have thought of everything!

Promo video #1:

And yet Another promo video #2. And another one promo video #3.  I am a sucker for these videos, they get me so pumped up for race time.

I have updated the Pedal Dancer Guide Page: GIRO ďITALIA

12 April 2014

I went to Belgium and took pictures of cobbles

Le Carrefour de l'Arbre (ou Pavé de Luchin)

What is it about a simple photo of cobbles that gets everyone so excited? A photograph of stones, that is all it is, and yet we all know it is so much more. The other day Team Garmin-Sharp shared a simple photo of an alpenglo version of cobbles, softly lite in the setting sun. The next thing you know, they announced they made it available as a wallpaper.

Wow, people must really like cobbles. Then I remembered I was out on a miniscule road in France searching for a famous section of cobbles in 2012 called Carrefour de l'Abre. I had spent the previous day visitng a war museum, walking the grounds of Tyne Cot War cemetery, driving down the Menin Road and under the Menin Gate, visiting the city of Leper /Ypres.

It was a beautiful morning in Belgium, I was looking forward to visiting the Roubaix Velodrome (photos) and then discovering a section of cobbles I had heard about for years - Le Carrefour de l'Abre is most notable for the ruckus crowds that gather along it's narrow flat path through an open farm field. The mood here on race day is more serious (more intimidating) than what we had experienced at the Arenberg Forest. But this section of cobbles is really really really rough. Huge stones, big gaps, wind and dust

This year the Correfour de l'Abre is only 17km from the finish line, so a flat on this section of cobble #4 (4th to the end) would be bad news for a leader.

Carrefour de l'Abre: difficulté classée *****
Longueur 2100 mètres
50°35'34"N   3°14'20"E

click maps to enlarge
Location of Carrefour de l'Abre in France

This is the infamous Le Carrefour de l’Arbre section of pave.

There are only three difficulté classée 5* cobblestone sectors in the 2014 Paris-Roubaix:

Section 18. Trouée d’Arenberg (km 161.5 — 2.4km) ★★★★★
Section 10. Mons-en-Pévèle (km 208 — 3km) ★★★★★
Section 4. Le Carrefour de l’Arbre (km 240 — 2.1km) ★★★★★
6 of the 28 cobblestone sectors are rated 4*

Read my piece on the Arenberg Forest from 2012 - I was a fan at the Paris-Roubaix.
My post on the 2014 Paris-Roubaix.
See photos of Tyne Cot Memorial and Ypres/Leper - Day 5 in Flanders

Photos of cobbles of Le Carrefour de l'Arbre: 

The French word carrefour translates to crossroads in English.

All Photos by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
It is not this Carrefour
I thought I was lost
But I kept following those yellow signs set up a few days before the actual race
Definitely do not want to miss this right hand turn (it was worth posting 3 signs)
I found Le Carrefour de l'Abre!
Now this is what I call a neighborhood bike path
backyard view of the Carrefour de l'Abre
Massive stones, laid by convicts who were understandably not perfectionists, during the time of Napoleon
How many riders out of 200 will be left still in the race at this point, I wonder?
Okay - who stole the pavé
This should make it clear why riders prefer to ride in the dirt gutter if possible.
One too many tractors have rolled over this pavé
A field of cobblestones, and the ditch where riders sometimes end up
Why take photos of perfect cobblestones in a row when in fact they look like this!
Now this is a corner!
After all that roughness, I laughed when I saw this innertube hanging from a sign
How wide is the Carrefour de l'Abre? Not very.
After 2100 meters L'Abre restaurant finally appears ahead, marking the end.
A landmark of the cobbles

After this journey onto the pavé of the Paris-Roubaix, I was so inspired, I returned to the town of Kerkhove in Belgium and rented a bike at a nearby bike shop. I rode up the Koppenberg and Kwaremont on that rental bike. It was a great day on the cobbles.

 Photos from race day: 

The flag of Le Nord-Pas-de-Calais, the most northern region of France
Le blason de l'ancien comté de Flandre est parfois utilisé pour représenter de manière officieuse le Nord-Pas-de-Calais (The coat of arms of the former County of Flanders is sometimes used informally to represent the Nord-Pas-de-Calais).

Getting in the mood to watch the race tomorrow with this photo -

Walking into the Arenberg Forest on race day. Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®
How to watch the Paris-Roubaix race? See my suggestions of the best resources: 2014 Paris-Roubaix