With rumours swirling in online forums that this weekend’s Paris-Roubaix Challenge - the mass participation amateur event before the Pro race - will be cancelled, road.cc can confirm that the event definitely will go ahead.
We spoke to the organiser, ASO’s Laurent Boquillet, who, speaking from the start village at Saint Quentin, said: “Yes, I know there are rumours out there, but I can tell you that the event will definitely take place on Saturday. The rumours might have come about because we have changed the format as we lost the right to have closed roads and had to change the event from a race to a randonée.”
As for the rider drop-out rate since the downgrading of the event, the final figure is not yet known but it appears to be fairly substantial.
M Boquillet said: “When we changed the format two weeks ago we closed the registration. At that point we had almost 2,000 people signed up and now we have about 1,400 participants, so we have lost about one third of the riders.”
“About 30% of the original field of riders were from Britain but I think a smaller percentage of British riders will drop out because they will have made their travel arrangements in advance,” he continued.
“The only difference is the closed road, the timing and the finish line. But as we know that the velodrome is a major part of the experience we will open it from 2 – 6pm so that people can come and have drink there and see the facility."
Road.cc asked Monsieur Boquillet how it is possible to promise a closed road race only to deliver a randonée. He said: “If you organise a race you know that when the police or authorities give an authorisation they can go back on that authorisation even the day before the event.
“So the people who say 'How is this possible?' have never organised a race before. It is an ongoing process, there can be external factors and things can change. For us what changed was a decision by the Gendarmerie [military police force] who had given us the OK to use their special motocross motorbikes on the event.
"Three weeks ago the army Commandant in charge reviewed the situation and decided it was too risky to use the ‘bikes the day before the Pro event. He thought that it might hurt the Pro race and said we could not have them anymore.
“We told him that we had 2,000 people coming but he said: ‘It’s not my problem, the Pro race is my priority.’ After that we lost the authorisation to stage a closed road event but the authorities told us: ‘You can still organise your event just not in the way that we agreed.’”
Monsieur Boquillet continued: “I understand that people are angry, I read the comments on the web, I’m also a rider and when I prepare for an event I don’t want to have this kind of issue. But we are not arrogant about it and I don’t want people to think that we don’t care. It was really a bit of a disaster for me, but the deal-breaker was the decision by the Gendarmerie not to provide the motorbikes and based on that the Préfet of Nord Pas de Calais [the administrative region in which the event is being staged] withdrew permision for a closed road race. ”
So what about 2012? Will there be another Paris-Roubaix Challenge and if so will it be another randonée?
“As for next year I cannot promise you that we will have a race, but it will be a race or it will not happen, we will not stage another randonée. If the issue is the guarantee of the Gendarmerie motorbikes then the solution would be to move the event away from the Pro race, but we will have to do a de-brief after this event, look at the issues and go back to the Préfet.
“The idea of this event was to give riders a chance to ride and then see the Pro race the day after. If we moved it to a week before or a week after to guarantee the participation of the Gendarmerie it would not be the same experience.”