I n 2005 I invited the late Jean Stablinsk to our annual dinner (CS Llanynddyfri/Llandovery CC). He came with his son Jacques and gave a fantastic talk at the dinner. For those younger cyclists he was Professional Road Champion 1962 French Champion four times, winner Tour of Spain1957, Amstel Gold, etc. Unfortunately he died in 2007.

Earlier this year I found out from his son that a committee had been formed 'Les Amis de JeanS tablinski' and that they would be organizing a randonne (same as our audax) in memory of him on 31st May. Valenciennes is a long way to drive so I recruited Dyfrig Hobbs (Beiciau Hobbs Cycles Carmarthen) as he likes driving, does not drink and has a van to carry the wine back home. We left home early Friday morning for the Dover Calais crossing and arrived at the Formule1 grand hotel in Douchy les Mines( translates as Pithead Baths) early in the evening. There were no restaurants nearby so we went into Valenciennes city centre for evening meal. On the way back I spotted a bar called 'Bar Polonez. We stopped there for a beer and noticed that there were photographs of Stablinski on the wall - it was a bar he visited to meet his old coal mining friends .

On Sunday we arrived at the coal mine at Arenberg which was the HQ for the ride (and where Stablinski worked as a coal miner).
Following a warm welcome from Jacques [who pointed out to his friends that we were Welsh, not English! ]we collected our cards and left at about 7.30am. In France the riders do not start together - the start was open from 7 to 9am and you could start at any time in that period.

I decided on the 155k route and Dyfrig, riding his Moulton (which created a lot of interest) took the 70k route. A nice dry warm day for a good ride. We had a route sheet with 5 controls including start and finish. The route was marked with STAB painted on the road and pointing to the direction to be taken [in the UK we have route sheets]. The first few junctions were confusing but we soon got used to it.

The route took us around Valenciennes and through the suburbs to pass Stablinski's home and also Jean Mari Leblanc's home
The road was reasonably flat and it was about 25k miles before we were in open country side. I left Dyfrig who turned off on to the 70k route. I managed to hold on to a small group of riders until we hit a hill and a flying peloton came speeding by as though they were on a mission. Tried to hold on but lost them on the top of the hill and spent the next few miles on my own until I arrived at the first drink station after 25 miles. The route then followed a narrow tarmaced road through the forest for a few miles - one of the French riders told me that this section had been used in Paris-Roubaix until it was tarmaced over a few years ago.
It was Stablinski who worked to persuaded the local councils to keep the cobbled roads for Paris- Roubaix and eventually they were
classified as ancient interest by the government.

The route seemed to be a multiple figure eight as we kept on crossing previous sections of road. At the 73k point we saw the 'Ravito' sign and found the feed station in the town of Troisvilles which has named one of its streets 'Rue Jean Stablinski. Plenty of food and drink before setting off and missing a turn due to a long distance charity run taking place which caused me to miss one of the road signs. After about 2k I doubled back and found the correct route. Following a short decent we turned off onto what I can only describe as a bad farm track. lt had an overhead banner saying it was Stablinski's cobbles. It was only about 1k but it was difficult just to stay upright and at the end of this stretch my teeth were nearly falling out from the vibration. Expecting cobbles I had 28mm tyres on my Specialized Roubaix which helped to absorb some of the vibration.

The route went north of Valenciennes to Hasnon for the final feed station and then to 5t. Amand before turning back
towards the finish. We then passed through Thun St. Amand, his birthplace, which also has a 'Rue Jean Stablinski .After 130k my unfit legs were beginning to feel the effects of the ride and a van came alongside and the driver said he was driving the
broom wagon and there were five riders a few minutes behind and suggested I slowed down to work with them. Even though it was a randonne there was no way I was going to be last, so I put my head down and carried on. With 3k to go I turned off the road onto the 'Trouee dArenberg" the famous 2k section of cobbled road which causes havoc in Paris-Roubaix. I kept on the gravel track at the side but did ride about 20m. on the cobbles to say that I had ridden them. At the exit on to the main road there is a monument to
Stablinski erected last year. From there it was just five minutes to the finish for a beer and some food.
Dyfrig, who had finished the 70k route a long time previously spent a long time chatting to Jean Mari Leblanc- not the usual thing
you expect to do at our audax events.

In the evening we were invited to a restaurant to have a meal with the Stablinski family and the organizers and friends followed by a visit to Jean's home for a drink (good job Dyfrig was driving).There we met some of the old professionals of the 60s and 70s era such as Raymond Riotte( domestique of Anquetil) and Henri Duez( Peugeot team with Tom Simpson) and heard plenty of stories for me to bore everyone for the next twelve months.

Monday was for calling at the nearest supermarket to stock up with some grape juice and return home.
Event: 40, 70, 155k for roadbikes (260 riders): 1 5, 30 and 55k for mountain bikes( 300 riders). Well organized and plenty of food, but if you ride it next year, don't expect to ride it at the minimum of 15k per hour - they like you to finish a bit quicker than the minimum average. I took seven hours and there were only five riders and the broom wagon behind me. Jean loved all forms of cycling which is why they decided on varied distances for all standards of fitness and for off-road bikes. For further information look for www.jeanstablinski for plenty of photos of his carrier and of the randonne

Footnote : the article was written for the UK Audax magazine - In the UK our Audax events are the same as your randonnees. We had to do this ride because Jean had travelled a long way to Wales to be the guest speaker at our club's annual dinner. I was able to make contact with Jean through the cousin, Jean Claude Fontenelle, who is a cousin of a Frenchman I have known since 1959.
For a person of his standing to accept our invitation showed his generous heart and he enjoyed the short visit and we were able to show him a small piece of the beautiful countryside, culture and distinct and active celtic language. In the club, we still talk of "the day that Stablinski came".
Why 2 names for the club : Llanymddyfri is the correct Welsh spelling; Llandovery is the anglicized version.