Today sees the infamous Paris-Roubaix cycle race… 260 kilometres from the Paris suburbs to the Belgian border. Rather them than me. Cobbles were a recurring theme as I cycled south along the Eurovelo 5 from London to Brindisi. It seems that any historic town worth its salt on the European continent feels obliged to keep them. And why not? Aesthetically they are very pleasant indeed, they are durable and recyclable! It makes you wonder why more towns and cities in modern times haven’t either taken care to preserve the old ones or build new cobbled roads. For a cyclist passing through the centre of Lille however, they really were hell and I could see quite plainly why the cycle race had been coined as ‘L’Enfer du Nord’. The Hell of the North.
More cobbles were to be encountered in Strasbourg and at various points across Switzerland and down through Italy but none matched the cobbles of north-east France. When I arrived in the high Alps and climbed towards the Gotthard Pass where I was expecting to meet the old cobbled road at some point, it paled into bone-shaking insignificance compared to the brutish thugs of northern Europe. The Alpine cobbles were flat-topped allowing the bike to pass from one piece of stone to the next with barely a jolt.
Good luck to all the cyclists today as they make their ways across the lanes towards Roubaix. Many will not make it to the very end and those that do will need every gram of luck they can find!