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