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I have a few days of flexibility on my ski trip this year and would like to attend Paris-Roubaix. Most of the tour operators have 4 or 5 day itineraries that include some riding - sounds great but I won't have the time this year.

Any suggestions? Thinking I'll go to Brussels and rent a car and try and piece something together. I'd like to watch the start and maybe some pave.
 

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I've seen the race three times and i can give you a bit of advice... I normally stay in belgium/brugge for about a month and do some races and rent a car to follow the race. Depending on how much time you have and where your travelling from i would:

1. Consider blowing off the start- its in compeigne and while its good to see all the festivities, the first pave aren't until 100 miles into the race. So if your driving from belgium its a considerable time/distance factor. Once again if youve never seen it and want to see all the bikes/team buses/sign in- then do it but once you see it its a mad dash into the car back 15 or so kms to the freeway and then hellbent travelling north with all the team cars etc. i've done both and for me i wouldnt go back to see the start unless i was with somebody new who really wanted to see it.

2. There are something like 28 sectors... you can usually see 3-4 and still make it to the velodrome if your a good/fast driver and get a bit lucky...Get the local papers on the day before and day of the race as they all have good and different maps..get the french equipe and the belgian het neiuwsblad? is good... with that and a good michelin map of the region(indispensible) you'll be set... The papers have the anticipated race times so its good when your driving. All the sectors are graded from 1-5 stars with the 5 stars being the worst conditons/best/most epic viewing.... shoot for the 3stars and above realizing that if you go for a 5 star more than once it could cost you b/c it will be the most crowded and harder to get out of there.. once the riders pass its a mad mad dash back the to the cars and motorbikes to get to another section..so strategic parking, direction, freeway close all come into play. Each year i get way better at this but at a cost of taking more risks so keep it simple..worse case scenario is you get stuck inside the race area so you have to go in a packed bar, drink beer and watch the race with the helicopters flying overhead

3. I have pretty good luck last year doing this- i avoided the start for the first time..went to the 3rd sector (3 stars-Quievry) b/c i had been there before and could get out fast... upon leaving got behind a credit agricole fan bus who was travelling like a bat out of hell, screeching tires through little villages, went to arenberg forest with plenty of time-parked half mile away and in the opposite direction-afterward saw another section near the freeway...i believe the several sectors around orchies are right off the freeway-so you can pick up one there pretty easy--i think most years as the race gets closer most people just end up parking on the freeway exit off ramps.... after that i would suggest hightailing north to roubaix- find the velodrome and watch the finish there its free to get in an truly an amazing finish... it will be crowded and one year they were trying to stop people from getting into the velodrome by walking the course/ route..if that happens just go around the block as the velodrome is set in a larger park and you can get to it- squeeze yourself in the south curve, top row and your set. Roubaix is pretty much a pit otherwise but its sister city Lille is a really nice beautiful city- go there after the race for some nice architecture, food, drinks if you have a little time.

So, a few last general observations...since so many people are following the race... you can always follow or ask someone parked right next to you where they plan on going next when your leaving and just follow them- this works great if they are local and know the roads. If your not that good with the directions.. go to an early sector and a mid sector and then decide if you want to go to a 3rd sector or roubaix.. realize the race serpentines around so some of your small roads will be closed and you wont be able to get through so plan on using the freeway or other small but out of the way roads..the sectors i would recommend are arenberg, mon en pevele (really bad cobbles)- tricky to get to b/c of road closures though, orchies- right off freeway i believe, carrefour de l'arbre (really bad cobbles). Also if your renting a car in belgium they have cheaper weekend rates and since belgium is so small you can drop the car off anywhere in belgium at no extra cost- you dont have to pick up and drop off at the same place if you dont want to. make sure you have your gas full as most places are either closed on sunday or closed for the race and the only reliable gas are the stations on the freeway/toll road- and you wont be around those. Also the 24hr fully automated places only take French credit cards. good luck
 
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