For twenty years, students from the Raismes horticultural school have been repairing the damaged cobblestone areas of Paris-Roubaix.
A partnership born from the desire to save a race threatened with losing part of its heritage.
Every year, three weeks before the race, they come back to practice on the cobbled sections.
To pamper and rehabilitate the mythical Paris-Roubaix course, hundreds of young people from two horticultural high schools in the North divide up the work.
From Troisvilles to Orchies for the Raismes horticultural school, from Orchies to Roubaix for the Lomme horticultural school.
Their mission: to repair the damaged sectors, in order to avoid falls for the runners as much as possible on the day of the race.
An idea and a partnership that dates back to 2002. Twenty years later, Jean-Marie Dubois, headmaster of the Raismes horticultural school at the time and a great racing enthusiast, remembers.
"The race was threatened with extinction in the short term"
“In May 2002, the vice-president of the Friends of Paris-Roubaix association was looking for help because the association's volunteers were no longer enough to repair the cobbled areas.
Clearly, if nothing was done, the race was threatened with short-term extinction.
He called me and an hour later he was in my office.
We discussed how high school students in the landscaping section could help.
This is how the partnership was born.
At the time, the Raismes horticultural school was in bad shape, but this partnership gave us back a brand image.
It's a real pride, ”rejoices the former headmaster.
A hundred high school students train on the cobblestones every year
Since then, more than a hundred high school students who are mainly destined to become landscape gardeners, train every year on the cobblestones.
At the beginning of the year, they learn the theory in class.
Before moving on to practice three weeks before the hell of the North, as Olivier Codron, teacher at the horticultural high school in Raismes and in charge of the landscaping section, tells us
“A month before our intervention, we identify the cobblestone sectors in pain on which we will intervene.
Then, three weeks before the race, we start working.
Every day, 25 students take it in turns to fix the paving stones for two weeks.
For example, this year, we did a lot of potholes.
We remove the cobblestones with a crowbar and then replace them.
It is heavy and tedious work because each paving stone weighs on average between 5 and 10 kg.
But it's also precision work to lay the pavement properly,” explains Olivier Codron, who does not hide the stress of seeing one of the runners fall in a renovated sector on the day of the race.
“We show the world our heritage and our know-how”
The icing on the cake, in addition to Paris-Roubaix, the 2022 class has also renovated the cobbled sections that the Tour de France riders will take this year during the 5th stage between Lille and Arenberg.
Two mythical races that give stars in the eyes of high school students like Benjamin, a final year student.
“To do something that represents the country since these races are broadcast internationally, it's really good.
It's a bit of pride.
We show the world our heritage and our know-how”, appreciates the 19-year-old high school student happy to participate in the little story of the great French classic.
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