L’Enfer Du Nord / The Hell Of The North

On his excellent website,, Ian Street has just written about the Paris-Roubaix cycle race which takes place this coming weekend. He’s linked to a documentary that I’ll try to watch at some point over the next couple of days. It reminds me that I wrote about the Paris-Roubaix in Good Vibrations: Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie;

“Cobbles. My pre-trip research had warned me about the cobbles that I would encounter in the Alps and Lille gave me an opportunity to practice cycling upon them in a big way. Doing so is hard work at the best of times. Try doing it with four full panniers and a tent and you will realise just what a bone-shaking experience it can be. Not that it should have come as a surprise. There is an annual cycling race from Paris to Roubaix – the town sandwiched just between Lille and the Belgian border – which has a reputation for being one of the toughest cycle races in the world. Why? Because of the cobbles! It’s been taking place for well over 100 years and of the roughly 260 kilometres from Compiègne in the Parisian suburbs to Roubaix, about 50 kilometres are on cobbled road the bulk of them at the Roubaix rather than the Paris end. Spectators line the cobbled sections to watch the small pieces of rock take it out on the poor riders and to rub it all in, in recent times the winner has been given one of the little buggers mounted on a plinth as a trophy! The most miraculous thing is that the cyclists manage to complete the entire course in just over six hours at an average speed of well over 40 kilometres per hour. On my own journey from Boulogne to Lille I could barely manage an average of 20 kilometres per hour and that, until I hit them in Lille itself, was keeping well off the cobbles. The race is nicknamed L’Enfer du Nord or The Hell Of The North and it wasn’t difficult to see why.”

3 replies »

  1. thanks for the link. Much rather you than me on the cobbles even though jealous of your overall trip

    • The cobbles in the centre of Lille really were hell but strangely the old cobbled road up to the Gotthard pass wasn’t too bad at all. On the way down the other side, things were slightly different of course… I should have perhaps dug one of them up and awarded it to myself as a prize at the end.

What do you think?