Saturday morning - the pre race spin to the cafe in Pierrefonds with the magnificent 19th century medieval castle - Château de Pierrefonds looming as a backdrop to the small town in northern France. A crisp, cold and sunny morning. Yet again no sign of rain on the forecast for the weekend, it's now been 16 years since we've had a wet Paris Roubaix.
Raceday - The sign on and rollout from Compiegne. There's a quiet calm and nervous energy in the air as spectators take it all in, looking at the bikes, the buses, team cars and then seeing the riders emerge, nestled amongst the fans as they ride to sign on. Like gladiators before an epic battle its easy easy to forget that behind the mirrored Oakleys that they have the same and more feelings about the race as you or I. Every time I'm at a pro bike race I'm reminded how in touch with the people and supporters this sport is, you're there within an inch of with the riders, there are few barriers or segregations and its part of what makes the sport special.
The Sagan Scrum at the Bora bus with fans desperate to catch a glimpse of the 3 time world champ.
Phillipe Gilbert rolling towards the win, 260km's away.
A quick pit stop before racing the race in order to see it 3 times on the course en route to Roubaix. Speed perspective: In order to see the race 3 or 4 times you to drive up stretches of motorway doing 80mph and sometimes only just make it in time to see them, these guys shift.
Onto the cobbles, The TV doesn't come close to capturing the absolute magical chaos of this race. Again the anticipation builds, the helicopter comes into view, sweeping through the vast fields at eye level, a dust storm approaching with the police motorbikes straddling the road. The hairs on the back of your neck stand tall, the thundering noise of the race flying through representative of the power being generated by the riders. Some have already having crashed, punctured or are just on a bad day and chasing at the back of the race.
The move! On the Carrefour de l'Arbre, Politt goes and Gilbert responds.
1. See the race charge past
2. Dash back to the car, consult the map and the time schedule, work out where to head for
3. Drive, along with many others (mostly Belgians) all doing the same.
3. Check twitter for updates on the race
4. Arrive at the next sector in the middle of nowhere, park anywhere you can and jog across a field to a tiny cobbled road
This image for me was the story of the race. 23 year old Joseph Areruya of the Delko-Marseille Provence team was the first black African rider to ever start and finish Paris Roubaix, albeit around half an hour behind winner Philippe Gilbert, and just outside the time limit. We saw him on all three cobbled sectors, out the back of the race on every one of them but continuing to push on and fight his way through to the end of this totally unforgiving but magnificent race.
We arrive into Lille with dusty hair in need of a shower and a Leffe with a feeling of exhaustion from the the surges of adrenalin seeing this great spectacle gives you. You're left wanting to do it all again the next day. If there's one race or sporting event you should go and see, its this one, there's nothing like it.