The 63rd edition of this classic race was not without controversey.
With only 10 days to go, the Mayor of Roubaix insisted (on grounds of security) that the race could not be held in the Parc Barbieux. This left the organisers in a quandry. The 19km "Grand Boucle" which traditionally visited the many quartiers of Roubaix had already been changed, but a new venue for the "permanent boucles" now had to be found. Due to "road works" in the Parc Barbieux in 2015, the venue was changed to the Parc du Sports and the velodrome, The organisers, who knew that this would not be popular, said - well it's this or cancellation - so this is where we ended up in 2016.
A good number of walkers actually did vote with their collective feet and did not start - which was a great shame. Yes, the park does get very busy with families, children, dogs, prams etc, who mostly ignored the race and get in the way... and yes, the surface was pretty awful (and dangerous in the dark) with cracks, pot holes, some very tight turn points and a dirt cinder 400 metre track (which turns to mud when it rains....) The course had two long inclines - so not a perfect course for walking 28 hours on. And, of course, the "security" aspect just didn't figure...
This year, the British contingent was reduced to just two teams in the 24 hour relay. I cannot remember a year when there was no British athlete was taking part in the 28 hours individual race. However, there were a few Centurions taking part from Holland and Belgium - well done!
The start list for the teams was also reduced to just four teams - 2 French and 2 British. Normally, this is a popular alternative to the 28 hours with 8 or 9 teams competing to be the Top Team! Nevertheless it was a hotly contested race between the teams and nations!
With the main 28 hour race starting at 11am at the Parc du Sport, logistics were a bit tricky for the relay teams who had (in theory) to be in the parc by 10am. Stuck there for 4 hours before our own start was a nuisance. OK I'm not selling this for 2017, but we managed and had many laughs along the way. This year, the French organisers said they would provide a tent and table for the GB team and the Austalian walker, Michelle Thompson, on the grounds we both spoke English and the GB team (us) knew the ropes...! True to form, when we arrived at the Parc du Sport at 10 am on Saturday morning, we found several French walkers had commandeered our tent. Nothing changes! :) Luckily (with a bit of pre planning) Chris Flint took his tent , small table and a couple of chairs. Sadly this meant that the two GB teams were not really "housed together" for the duration of the race. But we managed.
The Trois Centurions - Martin Fisher, Chris Flint, Dave Jones
The Lightening Ladies - Kathy Crilley, Norma Grimsey, Serena Queeney
The team relay was a bit of a nail biter between the 2nd and 3rd placed teams ie our 3 Centurions and one of the French teams. Realistically, the Lightening Ladies knew their place!
Literally, at the eleventh hour (well the 23rd hour!!) the Trois Centurions were overtaken by the French teams, Haladeil, and so dropped into 3rd place.... the Lightening Ladies knew their place.... but we raced our socks off! No reflection of the team members but this was a personal worst. However, as neither Serena or Norna has actually done any race walking for a least a year - we had to be consoled by the fact that we did the best we could - and enjoyed ourselves as well! So hats off to the team Or, as the French would say, Chapeau!
results - 24 hour relay
1st team - Manu et ça marche (FRA)195 km 005 m
2nd team - Haladeil (FRA) 187 km 192 m
3rd team - The Trois Centurions 186 km 038 m
4th team - The Lightening Ladies 169 km 698 m
results 28 hours
1st OSSIPOV Dmitryi (Indiv St-petersbourg) - 223 km 907 m
2nd LABORIE Christophe (Essonne Athletic*) 217 km 440 m
3rd KERLAU Yves-michel (Cm Roubaix) 213 km 466 m
4th VANDERCOILDEN David (Cm Roubaix) 210 km 531 m
5th VAN DER GULIK Franck (Svlat Amsterdam) 207 km 708 m (Centurion)
6th CZUKOR Zoltan 206 km 069 m
7th MAJETIC Ivo 205 km 323 m
8th VARAIN Cedric (Ac Chateau Thierry) 204 km 678 m
9th VAN CAUWENBERGHE Chris (Rc Gent) 202 km 102 m (Centurion)
10th / 1st Lady THOMPSON Michelle (Race Walking Victoria) 198 km 647 m (Australian Centurion)
24th KONING Johan (Svlat Amsterdam) 164 km 654 m (Centurion)
Congratulations to Australian Centurion Michelle Thompson - 1st Lady. Michelle and partner/support crew Darren arrived in Roubaix on Thursday - so were still slighty jet lagged at race day. The GB team(ie us) was tasked by the French to look after Michelle and Darren. As it turned out, it was not an arduous task as Michelle and Darren were great competitors and companions throughout the whole weekend. Indeed Darren kept the Lightening Ladies team awake throughout the 24 hours with some great conversations! We all got on famously. Thanks also go to our good friend of many decades - Bernard SIX. Bernard has suported and looked after many British athletes for over 20 years. As former Mayor of Croix, where the race used to start, Bernard made sure that the finances to support the race were in place. Then, as Deputy Mayor of Roubaixx, he did likewise to ensure the success of the race. Apart from looking after the British contingent (which inlcuded Bob andKen Watts who helped with the lap recording), this year, Bernard ensured that Michelle and Darren enjoyed the delights of Roubaix over the race weekend and indeed showed them around on Monday and took them to the station on Tuesday. A good friend to the British, and now, Autralian athletes.