Safety-Inspired Route Change to Paris-Roubaix Provokes Complaints

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

A minor route change to this Sunday’s Paris-Roubaix undertaken by race organizers ASO at the request of the professional riders’ union, the CPA, to reduce the danger of a crash at the entrance to the notorious Trouée d’Arenberg, or Forest of Arenberg, has unleashed a torrent of complaints, headed by defending champion Mathieu van der Poel who commented on the site formerly known as Twitter, “Is this a joke?”

ASO confirmed the change on X, saying: “For safety reasons and following a request from @cpacycling, the Paris-Roubaix organization is modifying the approach to the Trouée d’Arenberg. The route will take a chicane just before the entrance to the sector in order to slow the speed at which the riders enter the sector and limit the risk of crashes on the cobbles.”

The Trouée d’Arenberg is a 2.3 km section of jagged cobblestones which has often been the most dramatic part of the 259.7 km race known as the Hell of the North. It has been marked over the years by crashes and racing chaos as has the elbowing for position that usually precedes it, with riders hitting speeds of over 60 kph as they seek an advantage before hitting the cobbles.

The course designer, Thierry Gouvenou, told journalists that the object of the addition of an F1-type chicane to the approach to the section was to reduce the chances of carnage on those rough cobblestones. “I raced here twelve times, and twelve times I arrived at the entrance to the Arenberg Forest wondering how I was going to get out,” he was quoted as saying in L’Équipe.

“The principle is to find turns to slow down the peloton and lengthen it, a bit like the chicane system on automobile circuits. Currently, they arrive at around 60 kph at Arenberg. If they could slow down to 30-35 kph, it would be less risky. And that would highlight the difficulty of the forest because the riders would arrive without momentum.”

Gouvenou said that he had written to the riders to warn them that there would be more braking before they reached the Arenberg section. “They told me that they preferred to brake hard at the risk of falling on the tarmac rather than entering the forest at 60 kph,” he said, adding: “The riders are a little on edge and are asking us for a little more security to enter the forest. That doesn’t seem illogical to us. But it may be necessary to think in the longer term, in particular about the reasons behind certain crashes.”

That final sentence seems prophetic now in view of Thursday’s horrific crash in the Itzulia Basque Country, which badly injured Jonas Vingegaard (Visma– Lease a Bike), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step), Jay Vine (UAE Team Emirates) and several other riders.

According to the, the change will create a very straight approach taken at high speed, before a tight right turn about 50 m before the Trouée into a kind of bottleneck that comes just before a U-turn, which is followed by another 90-degree right turn into the forest.

Van der Poel was not the only critic of the change. Eurosport commentator Brian Smith, a former rider himself, said on X, “May as well put a 50 m walking transition zone like triathlon before Arenberg to slow them down. Most will be walking around this dogleg. It’s not a chicane in my book. A dead turn in any race is asking for trouble.” He went on to say: “Let’s all be honest… Paris-Roubaix ain’t a safe race! Everyone knows this… Everyone knows the drill. Leave it as it is or delete the race. Fans love it.”

One has to wonder, however, after the horrific scenes from Thursday’s Itzulia crash, if the appetite of cycling fans for crashes and high-risk races hasn’t been spoiled by the sight of their favourite riders being carried on stretchers to waiting ambulances.

In any case, the change will have little effect on the outcome of the race, which – barring accident or illness – will be won by defending champion van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceunick) as his only possible rival Wout van Aert (Visma–Lease a Bike) was forced to skip the race – due to injuries suffered in a crash.