Pavé-ing the way for some good photos (better late than never)

(***i honestly thought I had published this, clearly I hadn’t finished writing it…so here it is well after the fact***)

So the cobbles classics are now done, with less time this year I only had time for Paris Roubaix and had to confine myself to a TV spectator for some fantastic races.

With only one viable trip to the cobbles Roubaix is always my default choice, the sheer volume of photo opportunities make the return too great to pass up.

The Flanders route of the last 4 or 5 years lend themselves to a great race, to moto riders and the fans on the road side in hospitality tents. When you have to cover it by car you end up with limited scope for variation. That’s not to malign the importance of the kwaremont or the paterberg it’s just running between them with camera gear is exhausting and the chance to get something unique is greatly reduced.

Roubaix is a different proposition altogether, the course design lends itself to a great race and facilitates photographers in cars and on bikes alike. This is not to be taken for granted to paraphrase or potentially misquote Helmuth van Moltke (Yeap i did have to look him up) “no plan survives first contact with the enemy”!

As I sat in the busy La Brasserie Parisienne in Compiègne, regretting not reading the menu more carefully as I had ordered a burger with avocado in (oh the shame) I planned out the next day.

Even in a car double figure stops is possible, but at the point you can be swapping quality for quantity so I set a reasonably ambitious 8 stop plan, of which 5 are on the cobbles along with the start and the finish.

The first chink in the plan came at stop 2, we barely made it out in front of the race…a little squeeze on the right foot to get us onto the pavé and Lady Luck smiled…a parking space right next to a beautiful field of yellow. Having eyed up the crops on my ride the previous day and knowing the route was going to have crops along side,these cobbles are farm roads after all. The urgency to park and the amount of space left me with s bit of a challenge, a car door that I couldn’t get open, so I was stuck only getting one camera body out. On the plus side it removed the need for deciding what shot to take. Camera in hand I dashed into the field…with just enough time to capture the race

From this point on the plan is wholly dependent on how the race plays out…and a big measure of luck. Sadly the next stop barely worked…only one of us made it close enough, barely enough time to see that tail end of the race turn around and run back to the car.

The next stop should be an important part of the race, with the Trouée d’Arenberg looming straight after the Haveluy\Wallers section the pace tends to pick up. Sadly for us this also means that the race is spread out and we lose too much time waiting, the planned stops 5 and 6 are immediately at risk…and when I say “at risk” I mean they are on the editing floor and not making the final cut.

At this point the replay of the navigation only leaves us with one choice, the one thing I usually avoid, we ended up on the autoroute. Over the last 5 or 6 years security has got s bit tighter, or maybe just general crowd control and motorway junctions that lead near to the race routes are blocked off. It used to be a few cones in the way and if you followed a team car they’d already be moving them but now it’s giant blocks that need a forklift to move. As that disappointment of the road block flashes by the flash of opportunity strikes…some spectators seem to have created a car park on the motorway, so we take advantage and get something better than the plan.

A good stop is all well and good but doesn’t help with getting back into the bubble of the race, on the outer fringe of the race route you are much more likely to get caught behind normal traffic and all too common now impassable road blocks.

Sacrificing a proper cobbled stop always leaves a bitter taste and so late in the race it’s the possibility of race winning moves as well so popping back onto the route of Cysoing for the last shot out on course feels a bit empty. As we walk from the car to route we realise we are far enough ahead for a cheeky chip snack so I take solace in enjoying some frites and 5mins of live coverage before getting back to work.

This stop is usually a chance to catch the lead group only, run like hell back to the car and drive a very straight line to the Carrefour de l’Arbre, quite literally the carrefour part and you join the race route on its second half and drive to the finish. For some reason the photo gods smiled on us, although it took a moment to have that realisation. Instead of letting us onto the route we were waved over it, a bread discussion with Pete to weigh up the risk of this shot vs the finish we decided to roll the dice, I think it was worth it.

Having seen the leaders all that was left between us and the finish was a run across a field full of stinging nettles, some questionable driving,some even more questionable parking and a run to the famous velodrome.

All in all a great day and while I can’t claim to be quite this dead I wasn’t far off…

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