The real heroes of Paris-Roubaix? Goats let loose on the cobbles of Arenberg

For the second year in a row, a herd of animals are ensuring the cobblestones are in race-ready condition, in an environmentally and socially friendly way

Clock14:27, Tuesday 2nd April 2024
The goats get to work on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix

© Getty Images

The goats get to work on the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix

There are times when cycling, for all its pomp and prestige, appears to exist on a completely different plane from other professional sports. With a truckload of goats unloaded onto one of the key points of this weekend's Paris-Roubaix, we've had yet another example of why this is a sport like no other.

It's difficult to imagine the lawns of Wimbledon being tended to by a herd of farmyard animals, or the greens of Augusta being manicured with anything other than surgical precision. But goats are the perfect tool for the job when it comes to maintaining one of the most iconic sectors of cobblestones in one of the most iconic races in cycling.

The Trouée d'Arenberg — or the Trench of Arenberg — are where the goats have been unloaded, and encouraged to nibble away at the green grass that so readily springs up around the cobblestones in this arrow-straight track through the forest.

Paris-Roubaix cobblestone sectors are given a star rating out of five, and Arenberg is one of the three with a full five-star billing, such is its difficulty and treachery. The vegetation spilling onto the track, however, encouraged by the lack of traffic and the humid conditions, can bury the cobblestones entirely.

The goats were first introduced last spring, following the COVID pandemic. The race had been cancelled in 2020 and moved to October in 2021, by which time the grass had grown over the cobblestones.

"We realised that nature was reclaiming the area. It had become almost a meadow," route director Thierry Gouvenou told Agence France Presse.

The organisers had previously made use of industrial machinery, and even tried burning the grass. As organisers prepared to get the cobbles back in shape for the race's springtime return in 2022, they paused to reflect.

"We started to think about other, more environmentally-friendly, solutions," Gouvenou said. "One of them was eco-grazing, so bringing the goats regularly to the Trouée to eat the grass."

And so, on a few days in the weeks leading up to Paris-Roubaix, around 40 goats are driven to the Arenberg forest and encouraged to fill their bellies. With an estimated 2,500 cobblestones on the 2.3km sector, there's plenty to go around.

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The initiative pulls together the 'Friends of Paris-Roubaix' (Les Amis de Paris-Roubaix) volunteer group, local authorities and farming groups, plus the Espoir Avenir (Future Hope) charity. It's the latter, which aims to promote social inclusion in France, that gives the Arenberg-eating goats their collective nickname: 'The Kids of Hope'.

Read more: Paris-Roubaix: Moments that have defined cycling's most-loved Monument

The goats were out in force three weeks ago and they returned to Arenberg on Tuesday, five days out from the men's Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.

"It's still a bit 'green' but the goats remove all the tall grass," Gouvenou explained, pointing out that a complete absence of vegetation would make the gaps between the cobblestones even more dangerous. "After that, we'll go over it with a roller at the last minute."

The hard work, though, is performed by the goats, yet more unsung heroes of this race and yet another reminder that cycling not only exists in the real world, but also a different world.

For the latest news, interviews and analysis from the world of professional cycling, be sure to check out the Racing tab on the GCN website and visit our essential guide to The Spring Classics to stay up to date with all of the action from cycling's most exciting season.

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