By Hedwig Kröner
Un train peut en cacher un autre ("One train can hide another"), that is the French standard security warning at railway crossings throughout the country. Last year at Paris-Roubaix, Leif Hoste, Peter Van Petegem and Vladimir Gusev did not obey the prohibition of crossing a railway when the barriers are down - the train was not yet in sight - and paid for it greatly, as the race commissaires disqualified them.
The chasing Tom Boonen, Alessandro Ballan and Juan Antonio Flecha waited patiently until the train had passed, but technically they went through when the barriers were lowered, too, which caused some discussion after the race.
This year, event organiser ASO has made contact with the SNCF French railroads company, which appointed a special coordinator to inform the race directors of the passing of freight trains, which are not subject to any particular schedule. There are nine railway crossing on the parcours from Compiègne to Roubaix, but it is impossible to avoid them when planning the race course, so incidents of the same kind could still happen on Sunday.
In particular the railway crossing #142, located just before the Tranchée d'Arenberg cobble section, could be a problem: A train is scheduled to pass this point eight minutes before the fastest time schedule of the riders (14.54). As ASO's Paris-Roubaix parcours director Thierry Gouvenou explained, "How do you stop a 100-man peloton racing flat out to get to the cobble section in a good position? It was already hot last year, when the barriers were lifted 20 seconds before the first riders arrived..."
And at the last railway crossing of the parcours, in Chéreng, fatal to Hoste, Van Petegem and Gusev in 2006, two trains are expected at 17.04 and 17.15, whilst the race is scheduled to cross this point between 16.55 and 17.33, depending on the average speed of the riders.