Lying in bed listening to rain battering my window, I can only think: not another cold, wet miserable day.

By the time we reach the start, the clouds have thankfully parted and the sun begins to shine. It’s the biggest day of the year for riders and photographers alike: Paris-Roubaix.

After covering the sign-on, all the motos leave ten minutes before the start and head to the first section of cobbles, not far off 100k into the race. I stop for a saucisson sandwich and a drink in the small French village of Troisvilles: with 32 photo motos following the race it gets pretty busy.

Once refuelled, it’s onto the first sector: photos filtering through on social media show some very muddy stretches, caused by weeks of wet weather. 

After shooting the first sector we take a cobbled farm track—a very muddy cobbled farm track—and this is where the early part of my race unravelled. The front wheel of our moto slipped away and my pilot and I hit the ground, with ten thousand dollars’ worth of camera sliding across the cobbles into the distance. My initial thought was, “this is game over,” since I’m shooting with only one camera due to my second being in for major repairs after numerous drownings the last few weeks. 

Upon confirming my rider and I were both okay, I hobbled across the pavé to rescue my camera. Thankfully it had survived unscathed—how, I don’t know, but it had. Now to get the bike back on its wheels: with help from other pilots, we managed to get the thing upright, but several hundred kilos of BMW isn’t the easiest to manhandle. We were back in the race—shaken, but back in the race.

With the crash on my mind it was difficult to fully focus on the job in hand, but we made the best of a bad situation, eventually getting our composure together when it mattered to cover the key points and the break. And what a break, seeing three-time World Champion Peter Sagan doing turns with 750-1 outsider Silvan Dillier, hoping they could make it stick. The move won them respect and admiration from the thousands of bike fans who lined the route, willing them on to the finish.

Once again it’s a dash to the line, leaving the action as late as possible to head for the velodrome via back roads and shortcuts. Our convoy of bikes snaked its way through towns and villages, entering a back gate to the iconic Roubaix Velodrome; the roar of the crowd greeted us as fan favourite Peter Sagan approached the final lap, still with Dillier in the mix. The atmosphere was electric, and the final lap played out as you would expect.

At this point none of us knew about the tragedy that had unfolded earlier in the race, that Veranda’s Willems-Crelan team rider Michael Goolaerts lost his life after suffering cardiac arrest. When the news filtered through, it brought a whole new perspective to the day’s events—and life in general.

Words & Images: Chris Auld

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