A strange place to ride, not the Arenberg itself, but the area. I was somehow expecting very rural lanes, but instead you find yourself amidst Frances industry in particular the mining industry. That said industrial landscapes offer an interesting change, and I found myself often looking across my shoulders at the working mines, places I'd only seen in images usually with Merckx in front or on the labels of strong beer.
It was also pancake flat....so that's why they wallop on a 42 ring for the famous race that passes through here.
Still I was very happy just riding along, as I always am when riding in France. And beautiful lanes and villages did come and go to add to my pleasure. We covered a good thirty miles before I saw the first sign for the Arenberg, that little sign sent a shiver down my spine, much in the same way the thousands that travel to the Alps would experience upon seeing the first sign for Mont Ventoux. Right then I wanted to be with all my mates that really understand cycling. Then we passed the red brick mine that tells you that the start of the Arenberg Forest pavé is nearby, then a look up ahead glancing past the tight bend you see the old railway bridge that passes over the cobbles.
We're here. The racers wouldn't have to negotiate the steel gate that keeps the cars out. And they certainly wouldn't stop to take pictures and just gawp at the ground beneath them. I've ridden on cobbles before, but these ones are something special. Laid in the days of Napoleon and without as much as a single thought for the riders that would race these roads a century later. I placed my bike on what looked like the smoothest part HA HA HAAAAAAA and pushed off. Holy fuck this is stupid hard, no way is my bike going to withstand this. My bottle cage sounds like it's going to rip out of the frame. The wheels are banging over each cobble like hitting the kerb. The tyres are surely going to explode, but things are hanging on. Then my bones start to hurt. Oh you tit, now concentrate. remember bar centres, not the hoods like you are doing now. And not tight, loose. Sit back on the saddle, and pedal fast. I'm off I'm covering ground, I'm getting the hang of it just before it all ends. We regroup and pay respect to the guys that race that hard. I wait for my temporary whitefinger to clear and set off for food.
The suns up and strong now, and my pockets are full of redundant clothing as we hit a countryside and more pavé. We pull up in Orchies for a welcome beer and the best Salmon Galette I've ever tasted, we spend a bit too long here in the sun so have to get a wiggle on soon after our last coffee.
Initially our way is fine lanes and avenues, but they soon give way to the industrial landscape we left six hours ago. I'm always happy if I'm on a bike and the sun is shining so even the dual carriageways that mark the closing stages of our ride do nothing to deter me.
Everything pans out just right, we've ridden where we wanted to ride, we've eaten great food and my water bottles have just been emptied. We roll into Sin Le Noble to finish our ride. We stand in a hot dusty car park putting salty cycle kit into bags and don fresh cotton shorts and tees, and knock back fresh fruit and water before heading home.