The finishes of De Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix are really quite close together, less then 40km! From Oudenaarde, you can be on the iconic banking of the velodrome where Paris-Roubaix finishes in no time. Together with our friends at Cyclist Magazine, we plotted an extremely indirect course of 120km from the Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen to the velodrome in Roubaix, taking in the edited highlights of both races. The train takes you back or cycle back along the river. Get ready to shake them bones!!Show larger map
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And we're off!
Our first appointment is with the Koppenberg. As warm-ups go, it’s a beauty. There’s not much we can write about the Koppenberg that hasn’t already been written. It’s steep, its cobbles are unevenly sized and spaced and its location (cut in between two high banks with a canopy of trees above) ensures that those stones are often greasy and slippery. In short: It's a brute wholly deserving of its reputation.
Shortly after the Koppenberg, you'll turn onto a 2.5km extended section of cobblestones that links the flat Mariaborrestraat to the draggy Steenbeekdries climb before sending us down the other side on the thrilling cobbled descent of the Stationberg. The sting in the tail of this descent is a switchback with a railway crossing at its apex to test your bike-handling skills.
The next big name on the list is the Taaienberg. With a gradient of 15% at it’s steepest point and an attractive “cheat” option of a rain gutter on its right hand side, the Taaienberg is entwined with the legacy of Tom Boonen. Tommeke would use the Taaienberg to test his early spring form every year with an attack here in Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (one of the very few classics he never won).
After taking in the pretty ride on the narrow, twisting descent down into Ronse (twice host of the World Championships road race), we take in the cobbles of the Oude Kruisberg and the underestimated Hotondberg, crossing over into yet another of the steep sided valleys that make up the Vlaams Ardennen.
The Oude Kwaremont is not only the longest cobbled climb of the region, it’s also the centrepiece of the modern Ronde. Not the steepest climb in the region by any stretch, but the cobbles here get used by cars more than almost any others and are uneven and spread out making it more challenging than its gradient would suggest. It’s vital to pick your line here, as changing direction costs precious momentum. Predictably, the worst surfaced and steepest points coincide here with a 20 metre patch of stones that look as if they were thrown down with a shovel. The new route, finishing in Oudenaarde, climbs the Kwaremont 3 times once as prologue, once to mark the start of the finale and a final time with just 12km of racing until the finish.
If the Kwaremont is the jab, the Paterberg is the left hook. The two are a combination. With less than 2 km between them, you’ve barely lowered your heart rate before you start climbing again. The two are also wildly contrasting. Whilst the Kwaremont is long, and steady, the Paterberg is, at 350m, short, and brutally steep. It averages just under 15% and tops out at 21%.
Time to start our trek towards the border. At km 93, in Cysoing, you hit your first Paris-Roubaix cobbled sector: the Pavé Gilbert Duclos Lassalle. Nothing too brutal yet, so it serves as a nice appetizer for what's coming up next.
Camphin-en-Pévèle is waiting for you at km 100. Being a 4 star sector, this one already gives you more of a typical boneshaking Paris-Roubaix experience. Enjoy the ride!
Carrefour de l'Arbre
Km 102 of this route marks the start of the feared Carrefour De L’Arbre cobbles. The last five-star rated secteur of Paris-Roubaix and the final stretch of true, untamed pave’ before the race reaches the velodrome. The advice you always hear from old hands and TV commentators is to stay on the crown of the cobbles, that point should usually be reasonably intact and free of debris. That advice goes out the window, however, when the crown is reduced to a razor-sharp ridge covered in grass and dirt. Picking your line ahead of time here is vital, as is a callous disregard for your equipment. Just hit it as hard as you can and never stop pedalling.
Right after Carrefour, you hit the secteur that leads to the village of Gruson. These cobbles are much tamer than Carrefour De L’Arbre, requiring less concentration and weight shifting to ride effectively. These are much more similar to the still challenging but more uniform stones you left behind over the border.
Km 112 features the ride’s last real challenge, the recently refurbished pave at Hem. Should you be tiring of bouncing across the countryside by this point, then we have good news. The relaying of a section of cobbles that was, as recently as two years ago, beginning to resemble it’s more famous cousins has ensured a more uniform setting (the stones are still big with large gaps between them, cobble fans) but now boast a cycle-path next to them.
Before arriving at the velodrome is the ceremonial (and often missed) final section of cobbles that stretches to 200 metres and features the names of every winner laid out on the way to the turn onto the famous concrete banking. Spend a few minutes to pick out your favourites!
One last round to the finish
The velodrome itself is, officially, a public park. This means you should be able to access it whichever day of the year you show up for your regulation lap-and-a-half. It's always a strange feeling to arrive here after a hard day of pushing across cobbles and bergs to eerie silence or teenagers smoking in the tribune. There is, however, a magic about the place that can’t be denied: the only place this ride could have ended.
From Roubaix, you can easily take a train back to Oudenaarde, taking just under 1 hour. If you like to cycle back and take in the official last kilometres of De Ronde, you could use this route we designed: Roubaix - Oudenaarde.
All pictures ©Patrik Lundin | words Philip Malcolm | published in Cyclist Magazine UK