No-one gets closer to the action of a big race than a top photographer — or his motorbike driver. Luke Evans shares a unique viewpoint from the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix
We were lucky to finish Paris-Roubaix today. I parked up the motorbike on the inside of a corner on the cobbled sector 11 (Auchy à Bersée). It was near the gravel on a line that the riders could take so I put the wheels on a strip of grass with a shallow ditch on the left.
While Graham was taking photos on the bend I sat on the bike watching the big field clattering past. Just then a rider lost his front wheel and went down, causing a slow motion pile-up which filled the track.
As I looked back to see that Graham was getting the shots, one of those bright yellow Mavic scooters with a pillion holding spare wheels, squeezed around the mayhem and as he came alongside me his wheels banged into my bike pushing it forward. I tried to get a footing but it was on the lower left side. Bike and rider toppled into the ditch.
I jumped clear but when I got up I was looking at the underneath of the bike. It was upside down. No-way can one person lift a bike like that and as I faffed about trying to find something solid to clap onto, another photographer and a driver began to heave the thing back up while shouting for help from spectators. It was as if we had spun off in the Monte Carlo rally.
We righted the bike, quick check, looks ok, fired up first time.
As we rode back through the team cars the only problem was the left hand mirror was completely coated in mud. That’s when you know your bikes been upside down in a ditch.
There is no race like Roubaix. We make a lot of short cuts to get around the race as it’s not possible to pass on the cobbled sections.
There are cuts that we make every year and there are new cuts to try, sometimes nicked from other motos who we follow. It’s like a high speed treasure hunt with the prize being the sight of barriers and fans when we arrive back on the race route, hopefully ahead of the race.
You do have to concentrate on the cobbles and the short cuts on open roads require extra vigilance too. It’s always a tiring race to follow but one of the most fun.
My best moment of the day was being offered a glass of fizz by a very jolly family whose front garden gave directly onto one of the cobbled sectors. We talked about how convivial the folk are around here and they told me about their daughter who was enjoying working in London and had an English boyfriend.
They took photos of one of the blokes sitting on my bike and he embraced me French style. Then Graham ran back to the bike and we roared off. Good laugh that, lovely people.
Luke Evans was photographer Graham Watson’s motorcycle driver at Paris-Roubaix