Each year the Lille Metropole cycling club organises a children’s version of the iconic Spring classic, the Paris-Roubaix. Infamous as the oldest and probably toughest one-day cycle race in the world, so the kids are in for quite an experience.

The course used is the same as the final 30km of the adult race, using notorious Pave sectors like the Carrefour d’Larbre and finishing in the historic Roubaix Velodrome.

Essentially, all age groups had the same start time of 2.30pm, but at different location on the same closed-road course, the younger the age group, the closer their start location was to the finish. This results in a fantastic atmosphere in the Velodrome as each age group arrives in relatively close proximity, the action is thick and fast.

Age Groups (2017):

Prélicence (1 Km race distance) using 5.6m rollout, born 2011
Poussin (5 Km race distance) using 5.6m rollout, born 2009 & 2010
Pupille (10 Km race distance) using 5.6m rollout, born 2007 & 2008
Benjamin (15 Km race distance) using 6.4m rollout, born 2005 & 2006
Minime (30 Km race distance) using 7.01m rollout, born 2003 & 2004

Signing-on opened at 10am in the Velodrome with big queues forming beforehand. It’s a big race, with 640 entries in 2017 for the age groups effectively covering U8 to U14.

Despite the numbers involved, sign-on was surprisingly well organised, controlled and efficient, as was the whole event. Each rider receiving their goodie bag with bike/jersey numbers etc

Individual grids are big, over 200 riders in some age groups. Still very big in the younger groups- 136 in the 2017 ‘Pupilles’ (U10’s). Signing-on employed a separate queue system and location for each age group. These sizeable grids on closed-roads can be a little intimidating for some.

As the course is the same each year, it was easy to plot the route in advance so we could give our kids the chance to ride their course the day before. Having not raced on Pave before, it was a sensible move. Previous experience will play its part (especially in the older groups) as will Lady Luck!

We recce’d the course the day before, with road markings already in place to signify the start and finish of each age groups ‘neutralised’ zones, helping to confirm we we on the right route!

So back to race day and with all the numbers attached, the fun logistics was about to start. Like many families, we had several competing. We had our 3 kids in 3 different age groups, all starting at the same time, miles apart. Twins or Triplets would have been good here. 5-year old Cameron started just outside the Velodrome for the ‘Pre-License’ race, 7-year old Fraser started 5km out for the ‘Poussins’ race and 9-year old Connor started 10km out for the ‘Pupilles’ race.

With Mum staying with the youngest, Dad cycled with the older two out to the 9-year old’s start village approx 10km out (leaving him under the watchful eye of a very helpful Hillingdon Slipstreamer Mum!) before cycling back 5km to the 7-year old’s start location.

All set!

It’s worth noting that there is a fair amount of waiting around at the start (with high temperatures in 2017) so hydration a consideration. However, bottles/bidons are banned from the competitors bikes, due to the risk of coming loose and causing an accident on the cobble sections.

The commaissare of the U8 ‘Poussin’ race decided to do gear checks at this point, which made the waiting round a bit easier. 5.6m is a big gear at this age, much bigger than BC’s 5.1m.

At just before 2.30pm the motorbikes formed up to lead out each age group through their respective neutralised sections, then the race was on! Expect fast and frantic in all age groups, this is competitive, flat out to the Velodrome!

Irrespective of where they finish, this is above all else fantastic experience of racing abroad, closed-roads, bunch racing and cobbles. The carnival atmosphere of the Velodrome is the icing on the cake, especially when the UCI U23’s race arrives a short time after the kids race ends, with Bradley Wiggins aboard the Team Wiggins support car!

How our first-timers got on…

Our 3 boys loved it. Not everything went to plan though (this is racing after all)…

Connor was brought down on the Pave by the rider in front falling, then hit by the rider behind, got going again but couldn’t catch the lead group well up the road by now, finished 24th/136 in the U10 ‘Pupilles’ and a bit disappointed to not be with the lead group.

Tiny Fraser managed 11th/58 in the U8 ‘Poussins’ on his 20″ wheels against “…all those 700c bikes Dad!” despite accidentally putting his big brother’s shoes on, just the 3 sizes too big!

Little Cameron was also 11th/22 in the U6 ‘Pre-License’ category and was over the moon. In conclusion, despite the issues, all 3 boys want to do it again, so it looks like a success.

More kids from the UK had some great rides on the day, notably Finlay Storrie (Maindy Flyers) 2nd ‘Poussin’, Joe O’Brien (Zappi’s RT) 1st ‘Benjamin’ and Jack Brough (MI Racing Academy) a very close 2nd ‘Minime’. Some big results considering how few U.K. riders entered.

Run over the May Bank Holiday, makes it an easy event to enter and at just over an hour from Calais – it could be done in a day trip, if you’re based in the south of England. Camping in the local area is limited. We stayed 20 minutes south. Roubaix itself isn’t the nicest of towns, so be careful with security.

Other considerations would be: choice of bike, wheels, tyres and pressures. Riders are not allowed to race with bottles/bidons in cages on the bike. Gridding on the start line was by competitor number, so an early entry helps.

Was it over competitive. Almost certainly. The French parents do get seriously ‘excited’. Important to take it all with a pinch of salt. Still great experience for the kids, and an insight into just what lies ahead for those harbouring ambitions of more serious racing on the continent.

Just try getting them off that Velodrome!

Entries for the 2018 event should open on March 1st 2018. with online entries available from ProLive Sport website (in French only) To contact the organisers: Roubaix Lille Metropole Cycling Club