An overhead drone shot of the EF Education-Easypost team on a Paris-Roubaix recon ride. Four riders in distinctive pink EF kits ride in a paceline on a narrow cobbled road next to a freshly plowed field.

Roubaix dreams, cobbled nightmares

Roubaix recon is a far different cobbles experience than race day.

Midweek, a ride on the cobbles is all anticipation and dreams. Whose will come true this weekend, and which will turn to nightmares? Photo © Gruber Images

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 06.04.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images
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To the uninitiated, the simple farm tracks of the Nord Pas-de-Calais region are unremarkable: narrow, rutted, cobblestone lanes mostly plied by tractors. Slicked with a greasy, muddy film; a menace to oil pans, tires, and suspension, you’d never drive them, much less ride a bicycle over them. But one weekend a year, they are transformed into a high church of bike racing, as tens of thousands of fans make the pilgrimmage to Paris-Roubaix. Even as the tension builds throughout the week, the roads remain mostly quiet, rural silence broken only by the occasional staccato rumble of tires on cobbles as teams stretch their legs and scout the course. Photographers Ashley and Jered Gruber joined the EF Education-Easypost team for its recon. Come along for a quieter, more intimate look at the iconic course of a race like no other.

EF riders navigate another sector of cobbles. The overhead shot shows the riders going away from the camera down a narrow cobbled lane that snakes away in the distance. To the right, a green field and ditch, while to the left, the stark brown of freshly plowed ground contrasts.
On race day, this will be packed with fans, a chaotic, overwhelming kaleidoscope of color, dust, and noise. But today, there’s hardly a soul in sight. (Photo © Gruber Images)
EF Education-Easypost riders ride past spectators already staking out a roadside spot.
The riders aren’t the only ones checking out the course early. Fans arrive days in advance for the most coveted locations. (Photo © Gruber Images)
An overhead shot of an EF rider going through the "Pont Gibus" decommissioned railroad bridge, an iconic spot on the course.
Officially, the sector is known as Wallers à Hélesmes, but this three-star, 1,600-meter section is more popularly known as the Pont Gibus in honor of Gilbert Duclos-Lasalle, one of the only riders to win back-to-back editions. (Photo © Gruber Images)
Two EF riders navigate cobbles past a still puddle of water. Their bikes are reflected in its surface. Behind them in the distance is a cooling tower for a nuclear power plant.
Still waters run deep? The EF boys, like everyone else, will be hoping for a bit of that old nuclear power on race day. (Photo © Gruber Images)
A close-up of the cobbles. The granite stones are irregularly shaped and spaced an inch or two apart. They sink into the soil at odd angles and present sharp edges to tires, far from the tight, uniform cobbles of most European streets.
Like no other: these stones were laid in Napoleon’s time. The granite surface of each is worn smooth by weather and time, but they are irregularly spaced, and sink into the soil at odd angles, presenting sharp edges that flatten tires and break wheels and bodies. Were it not for the efforts of les Amis du Paris-Roubaix, the earth would have long since reclaimed them. (Photo © Gruber Images)
Two white water towers loom over a pair of pink-clad EF racers as they navigate the race's longest sector of cobbles, Hornaing à Wandignies.
An unremarkable bit of farm infrastructure in other context, the twin white towers of the 3.7km, four-star Hornaing à Wandignies sector tell riders they are roughly halfway through the longest unbroken stretch of cobbles in the race. (Photo © Gruber Images)
Three EF riders make their way down the famous Arenberg Forest section. Nicknamed the Trench, the sector is one of the few in the race that is not in open farmland. It is dead-straight, bisecting a thick forest where the World War I armistice was signed.
The trench needs no introduction. Fabled, feared, and meriting every last point on each of its five stars, Arenberg always leaves a mark on the race. (Photo © Gruber Images)
An artistic view of cobblestones, shot from above with a blurred, vignette-style framing.
Sweet dreams … (Photo © Gruber Images)

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