Riding the Arenberg Forest Trench
The Arenberg Trench is a stretch of road in Northern France, famous for its brutal cobbles and forming the crunch point in the Paris – Roubaix race.
I’ve been lucky enough (or unlucky) to ride the Arenberg and definitely did not have the best experience as written about here. Stopping for photos at the beginning, followed by getting stuck behind Sean Kelly doing a piece into the camera for Eurosport, then getting bounced into the fencing by the cobbles and doing a forward roll with a bike attached and eventually managed to finish – a lot happened in those ten minutes!
The segment gets its legendary status from being the moment where potential victors can win or lose Paris – Roubaix. 2016 saw a particularly brutal set of crashes involving Mitch Docker, a motorbike and Elia Viviani. A first crash included Docker, whose fall onto the cobbles was so heavy and so bloody that it was suspected he may lose an eye. This halted the bunch and as a following motorbike tried to brake, it lost control and took out a standing Viviani, injuring him.
The peloton hits the cobbles with an all out sprint and with so many people on the limit, combined with the possibly muddy, wet cobbles has led to many crashes over the years. World champion and 3 time winner of Paris-Roubaix, Johan Museeuw most famously crashed here in 1998 shattering his kneecap and later picked up an infection that saw him come close to losing his leg. The cobbles can be brutal, even to those that have mastered them!
There are many iconic views of the Arenberg trench, its long straight path through the forest as far as the eye can see gives it the feeling of cycling between two green walls. The mining bridge over the cobbles is the only man-made object overhead. The industrial construction seems to lend itself to black and white photos with the contrast giving any picture another stand-out feature.
The top tips to ride it are to stay on the crown of the road in the middle or keep to the absolute edges where you may be able to ride in the dirt between the barriers and the cobbles.