Thursday, 5 April 2012

Paris-Roubaix 2012

There’re tough races; there’re tough rides...then there’s Paris-Roubaix.

The oldest one day classic race in history and it’s produced some amazing drama over the years. I’d be lying if I said I was an avid follower of the race, where in truth, I’ve watched a handful of the organised chaos over the past few years. I’ve seen Boonen, Cancellara, Backstead and Van Summeren take wins in some pretty brutal conditions. So, with the in introduction of the
Paris-Roubaix Challenge; organised by the same people who do the Pro Race as well as some Tour in France...? I jumped at the chance of seeing what the fuss was about and how difficult it was to ride the famous pave’.

Friday March 30th. A day of travelling from Carmarthen to London via Ammanford to crash at my sisters place in Richmond.

Saturday March 31st. 7am start and a drive across London to meet up with Jon. He’s American, so there’s not much more to be said. Oh, he did Paris-Breast-Paris (1,200km in 3 days). Then onto the Dover -> 45mins crossing -> St Quentin -> 2hrs into France. Easy. Register, feet up, some food (a very average pizza) and then watch France v Scotland in female football. France were prettier, the Scottish girls spat and it was rubbish.

Sunday April 1st. 6am start and some standard French breakfast...cold meat, a crassoint and orange juice. Fucking French.

I’m not sure about anyone else, but from the outset, I always thought the ‘challenge’ was the same setup as a sportif. Judging by the results and trophies, it was essentially a glorified amateur Paris-Roubaix race? Weird setup in truth.

Anyway, started off in the final group (5 of 5) numbered 1359 from 1500. We set off in intervals of roughly 5 minutes and started next to what looked like Simon Gerrans (Australian National Road Race Champion and Milan-San Remo winner)...well, not really. This guy wore a national champions jersey, rode a 4k Cervelo S5 with a pair of Zipp wheels which nigh on cost more than the ferry I travelled over in. Riding 6k’s worth of equipment over the cobbles...braver man than me.

The start was pretty tame, joined a pretty big group of riders who gently ambled through the smaller towns before hitting the open road...where I realised that the headwind would be pretty much directly at us for the entire route. Making our way onto a longish drag, I noticed that people were quickly going backwards and eased myself off the front and picked my way through the field. The wind was pretty grim once caught between groups, but as soon as we hit a “hill”, I was making ground on the guys in front pretty easily; although I had to keep reminding myself it’s a long day in the saddle and we hadn’t even hit a cobble yet.

Looking at videos of the race from previous years, I realised that hitting the cobbles at speed, right through the crown was the way to go. So, as we approached the first section of pave’, I upped the gears and lowered the cadence...then immediately shit my bibs as soon as I touched a cobble. Likewise everyone else around me. Jesus H Christ...chaos ensued; bottles flew out of cages, saddle packs snapped off, riders fell and a LOAD of riders punctured in the first couple hundred metres. Mavic run motorbikes and the Police were flying up the cobbles with ease, popping off and helping people with wheel issues, riders were throwing bikes around like petulant kids, rims were bent...carnage. Somehow, I managed to slow down enough to ensure that my teeth didn’t fall out and my hands had taken it upon themselves to work without my control; a vice like death grip would mean that I would have to peel the fingers of my left hand off the bars later in the ride. Masturbation was not looking good for the next week considering my hand had turned into that thing off the Adams Family: “PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD....LEAVE IT GO?!!”. Essentially, I’d be raping myself. Weird, huh?

Fortunately, the pave’ would ease as the day went on. Being held up was the only issue of the race, but that’s to be expected when 1,500 riders take part; although only ~900 finished. I got into a rhythm when approaching the cobbles and once you picked a gear, that was it, no changing during the section. I also found that mountain biking has helped my bike handling pretty well, I was able to pick good lines and ride on the edge of the cobbles and pass people at will...until about 110km in where I started to tire...and get sore...and get bored of a constant headwind and cobble combo.

I stopped at two feed stops for water. They were well run, but everyone assumed you were French....even though I constantly said “Ola” and “Gracias”...why, I don’t know?!

There’s a famous section of cobbles that I looked forward to the entire way around. At 90k in, we’d be hitting the Arenburg. We cycled alongside a HUGE factory which looked like something out of a WWII film, then cut through the middle of a forest on 2.4km of cobbles. Big, bastard cobbles. A funny thing happened on these big, bastard cobbles. Essentially, I thought I shit myself. My stomach was playing silly buggers and every time I hit a cobble with force, I thought I crapped myself. Now, this would’ve been ok if it was 100m long...but no...2.4km of it. Imagine that, 1.5 miles of “Oh my god...I’ve shit myself”. Needless to say, I smiled for the cameraman when he took a photo. I masked it pretty well.

Turns out when I stopped for a piss after the section, I didn’t shit myself. Hazza!

The third and final section of pave’ was where I managed to take a wrong turn...despite being a large police and spectator presence. I rounded a corner and out the corner of my eye, saw a cyclist disappear to my right. So I followed. For 4km. Then I realised the roads were open...after a strong chase, the guy in front didn’t have a number on his bike. In all honesty, he probably didn’t need to be called “YOU FUCKING, FUCK!!” but he was French.

4km back up the road and I rejoined the “race” on the cobbles. They were starting to take their toll and my wrists were very stiff at this point. More cobbles, more wind, saw a man fall on his face, more cobbles, more wind, saw a man fall on a straight piece of tarmac road then realised we’d finished with the cobbles for the day and was on the final stretch to the Roubaix velodrome. This is what I wanted to was a shame I was blowing out of my arse, but the crowds on the side of the road were fantastic! Rounded a corner and had my name called out as I entered the velodrome. Again, another experience where I nearly shit myself...the banks on the Roubaix velodrome are really....really STEEP!! Instantly took the sprinters line and crossed the finish to collect my medal. A brilliant day on the bike. Loved it. Didn’t shit myself.

The one thing I’ve noticed looking back at the results is the ~30 minute discrepancy between my Garmin 200 (GPS) and the timing they’ve given?

Here’s the ride details from my Garmin which can be seen on
Strava too;

Ride Time: 5:35:29 (5:59:30 on the event listing?)
Distance: 158km
Calories: 2,707kcal
Elevation: 903m
Ave Speed: 28.5km

The kit I used

Movelo bibs/shirt: Superb. Surprisingly, my arse was unscathed through the day. A quality chamois and, importantly, a zipp on the rear pockets of the shirt for keys/money. Love that gear!!

PBK arm/leg warmes: Used them for years. Perfect/cheap.

Oakleys: You’ll need glasses for the race whether wet or warm. There was a surprising amount of dust being kicked up.

My Giant TCR composite was amazing. Damped a huge amount of vibrations and it stayed in one piece!

Shimano R500 wheelset. £70 from Merlin cycles...they’re unbelievable value. Rock solid.

Continental 4 Seasons (28cm): not a single puncture. Enough said really?

Specialized bottle cages. Didn’t lose a single bottle.

My best tip for the race itself would be to double up on gloves; forget the double bar tape, it’s cheaper to throw two pairs of gloves on. This worked a treat for me, but if I were to do it again, I’d consider taping my fingers at the knuckles – they rattled the entire ride and have come out in a bruise 3 days later. I used PBK gloves and a pair of Castelli gloves over the top.

If you get the chance to do it.

Hip hip...pave’.

Pure Sweet Hell...apt,

Detour...8km's worth...


Route sticker with cobbled sections...

St Quentin....

Cobbles.... the ditch...


In the ditch...

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