By Julie Warren
Here's a question for you: Italian Opera, 'Yellow Submarine' and 'Roll Out
The Barrel' - what do they have in common? ... Do you give up? ... I'll tell you
then. They are all tunes to which Belgian cycling fans can sing the words 'Johan
Museeuw' along to!
I discovered this interesting fact when I joined the Keightley family on
their annual trip to watch Paris-Roubaix. Visiting the race for an eighth
consecutive year, Ian, Helen and their daughter Lauren are what might be called
We arrived at the Ibis hotel in Compiegne on the Friday before the race and
tried to find a place in the car park which wasn't already taken by a team
Domina Vacanze-Elitron vehicle. If you're planning to make a trip to watch
Paris-Roubaix it's important to book hotel accommodations early. We had secured
our rooms months previously and even that far in advance of the race, many of
the hotels were already fully booked.
On Saturday morning we had the pleasure of being able to eat our breakfast
while watching the Domina team eat their breakfast. They looked as if their
pre-race preparation had involved having their hair highlighted and lounging
around in solariums. As Team Leader, Daniele Bennati was able to claim the free
CD which was attached to their packet of Coco-Pops. This was probably a rare
treat for him - I'm sure that when Cipollini is in town, all breakfast cereal
freebies automatically head his way!
Daniele Bennati - Domina Vacanze
On Saturday afternoon between 2 and 5 o'clock, the team presentation took
place in Compiegne's Place du Palais. The square was tranformed into a mini
cycling village with stalls selling all sorts of paraphernalia which included
clothing, encyclopedias, bicycles and photographs of the riders. There was also
a vast stage and a marquee - the espace partenaires - which was given
over to sponsors of the race.
While waiting for the teams to arrive, the crowd was kept entertained. A
French-speaking, live band performed truly unique versions of popular songs, the
most notable of which was 'Slax Mashare' by James Bra ('Sex Machine' by James
Brown for the English speakers amongst you!).
As the excitement of watching the band became too much for me, I decided to
wander into the espace partenaires and see what was on offer. It was possible to
gauge the quality of the promotional giveaways handed out by each sponsor by the
number of people swarming around their stalls. Armfuls of goodies were available
to be gathered - posters, backpacks from Credit Lyonnais, stickers, packets of
sweets from Haribo, information booklets about the race, shoulder bags from La
Redoute and keyrings.
Back outside in the square the teams began to arrive. They were led onto the
stage and introduced by 'the voice of the Tour', Daniel Mangeas, before being
led back off the stage and into the espace partenaires to collect a goodie bag
each and be exposed to members of the public. The Keightleys and I managed to
speak to several of the riders and ask them how they were feeling about
participating in 'the Hell of the North' the following day.
I asked Lampre rider Rubens Bertogliati if he thought he was going to win. He
laughed and told me that he hoped so but he didn't think it was very likely. Max
Sciandri was more positive. His reply was "yeah sure" and was backed up by a
winning smile! New pro Mark Scanlon wasn't looking forward to riding his first
Paris-Roubaix. He told me that he wasn't at all confident about it and that he
was just the second reserve.
Rubens Bertogliati - Lampre
The prize for most approachable and chatty rider goes to Palmans-Collstrop's
Roger Hammond. He told us that he would be happy to finish in the top 15 and
promised that it wouldn't change him if he won. Second prize goes to the young
Australian, Allan Davis, who was kind enough to let us inspect the contents of
his goodie bag (a towel from La Redoute and a boxed pen from Credit Lyonnais)
and confided that he hadn't volunteered to ride - he was being forced to!
Roger Hammand - Palmans Collstrop
On the morning of the race we joined the Domina team for breakfast again.
Their Coco-Pops had been replaced with platefuls of spaghetti, parmesan cheese
and olive oil. We left them to their carbohydrate feast and headed back to the
Place du Palais so that we could secure a good spot behind the barriers to watch
the riders arrive and the start of the race.
At 11 o'clock, the 101st edition of Paris-Roubaix began under a cloudless sky
and warm sunshine. We watched the riders roll over the start line and then
dashed back to our car. We followed a convoy of fellow-spectators, speeding
along the motorway towards the next possible sighting point of Saint-Quentin.
The favourable weather conditions had led to fast racing and the riders covered
46 kilometres in the first hour. This meant we didn't have long to wait before
the peloton snaked its way past us.
Our next stop was the Forest of Arenberg. We parked as close as we could get
and made sure the car was facing the right way for a quick getaway once the race
There is a real party atmosphere in and around the forest. There are stalls
selling popcorn and candy floss, a thumping background of disco music and plenty
of beer on offer to help fuel the singing of the Johan Museeuw songs! One
essential stop is the van selling chips with mayonnaise. The queuing system is
non-existent though and so people are served on the basis of who can shout out
their order the loudest and most aggressively in French!
Fed and watered, it was time for us to head into the forest itself. We found
a spot behind the barriers and passed the time waiting for the race to arrive by
watching drunken Belgians trying to walk in a straight line while carrying
crates of beer and singing. It was also fun trying to spot each group's
designated driver - they were usually to be found clutching a bottle of water
and looking embarrassed. I have never seen such a tidy nation as the Belgians
though. No matter how much they had to drink, they made sure they took their
empty bottles away with them so that the forest was left looking spotless.
The sound of helicopters overhead announced the impending arrival of the
race. We were covered in clouds of dust as the photographers and race officials
sped through the forest on their motorbikes and in their cars. The roar of the
crowd swept along the barriers like a Mexican Wave as the first of the riders
entered the forest. They rode past at what seemed like an impossible speed and
this, combined with the dust hanging in the air, made it difficult to pick out
who was who.
Once the main bunch had passed us, we ran through the forest and back to the
car and headed down the motorway to Orchies. The turn-off point for Orchies
became an impromptu car park and we joined countless other fans in abandoning
our car in the middle of the road, leaping over crash barriers and running down
a grass verge to snatch our next sight of the race.
Trying to leave Orchies proved to be something of a nightmare. The impromptu
car park had now become a traffic jam of hellish proportions. The temperature
was rising and tempers were fraying. Team cars were trapped in the mass of
vehicles along with the fans and people leant on their hooters in desperation.
It took a long time for the traffic to start moving and we only just managed
to reach the last section of cobbles outside the velodrome in Roubaix in time to
see Van Petegem, Pieri and Ekimov arrive. There was an explosion of cheering as
they entered the velodrome and although we didn't get to see the finish of the
race, we were able to walk to the velodrome in time to see the presentation.
So if you're planning to go and see Paris-Roubaix for yourself next year,
here are my top tips: book your accommodation well in advance, learn the French
for 'chips with mayonnaise', give Orchies a miss and practise singing 'Johan
Museeuw' to every tune you can possibly think of!