Paris-Roubaix cobbled sector to receive mortar makeover to aid rider safety

Removal of vegetation will not reduce the sector's drama

Cobbles in the Arenberg forest
(Image credit: Richard Abraham)

One of cycling’s most emblematic roads is set for a new treatment to make it safer for next year’s Paris Roubaix.

The gaps between the cobbles of the Trouée d’Arenberg will be filled with a special mortar to prevent grass growing and making the already hazardous sector more dangerous.

First used in the 1968 Paris-Roubaix, each year sees the bunch sprint en masse into the sector, and it has become one of the most anticipated moments of the Queen the Classics, with drama guaranteed.

However, with grass and vegetation sprouting between the cobbles, any rain would make the pavé stretch too hazardous to ride, and every year stories circulate that the sector is to be excluded.

Indeed recently Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix, the organisation which maintains the race’s pavé sectors, have used ‘thermal weeding’ to solve the issue.

The new treatment, which has been approved by race organisers ASO, will be both more radical and longer lasting.

“All the last editions took place under dry weather, but one day it will rain, if we do not change anything there will be lots of falls,” said President of Les Amis, Francois Soulcier in an article in French newspaper La Voix du Nord.

“It does not mean the sector will be less difficult.”

One of only three of the toughest, five star cobbled sectors among the 29 included in the 2018 Hell of the North, the 2.4km road cuts a straight line through the Forest of Raismes, and this year came with 95 of the 275km race remaining.

If crashes don’t delay riders on the fabled sector, mechanicals will, as even the best prepared bikes suffer on the punishing surface.

Over the years many have suffered injury, and favourites’ hopes have ended when they either fall victim themselves, or are stuck behind others’ misfortune.

“Grassing in the joints between stones is becoming more important, and since we cannot use chemicals we must act differently,” said Daniel Accou a former paver who assists Les Amis in their maintenance work.

Not only will the sporting nature of the sector remain the same, the visual character will remain as the organisers seek to either match the colour of the stones or pay homage to the area’s coal mining heritage.

“We will carry out tests to choose the colour of the cement and the possible dyeing,” continued Soulcier.

The sector was first suggested for use in the race by former professional, Jean Stablinski who had been a miner in the area. Having retired in 1967 Stablinski never raced on the sector, so never experienced its fearsome reputation.

That reputation saw it banned from the race for some years because of the danger it posed to the peloton, but has been secure in the parcours in recent years.

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Owen Rogers is an experienced journalist, covering professional cycling and specialising in women's road racing. He has followed races such as the Women's Tour and Giro d'Italia Donne, live-tweeting from Women's WorldTour events as well as providing race reports, interviews, analysis and news stories. He has also worked for race teams, to provide post race reports and communications.