For cycling fans, Northern France and Belgium becomes a Mecca at this time of year. The cobbled Classics are among some of the oldest,hardest and most iconic races on the pro calendar. The flat, featureless landscape becomes hive of activity as people travel from all across Europe to see the world’s best riders tackle the infamous cobbled roads of Paris-Roubaix – or as it is known: ‘the Hell of the North’. The Saturday offers the chance for people to ride the course themselves, before the pros race on the Sunday. Having covered the 170km course myself on Saturday, my fingers and wrists were so numb and bruised I struggled to hold a camera – but the excitement and awe of getting to see Fabian Cancellara and co steam over the cobbles was too much to resist.
Part of what makes this race so special is the landscape it is set in. The ‘Hell of the North’ title comes not only from the suffering the cobbles inflict upon the riders, but also the history of this area. The land here is scarred from the bloody battles of the First World War. The trenches ran all across these fields, and as you cycle through towns and hamlet’s you are confronted by mass-graves and memorials. On this bleak land there are constant reminders of the thousands upon thousands of men that lost their lives among these cobble.