Paris Roubaix Sportive Trip 2014
There are times when you cannot avoid the cobbles; the Paris Roubaix parcours is so charged with history and atmosphere that you are drawn hypnotically in electing to ride the pave. You may not ride the whole 1000 metres or so as, with your mind focused, you find yourself skipping from the pave to the verge and sections where tarmac has been poured in as a hasty repair. It simply takes over your mind and body; that’s why riding the Roubaix pave is as much a mental challenge as a fitness one.
Out of the Arenberg, the next sections of pave are rather benign in comparison and allow you the opportunity to sort yourself out, especially on the tarmac. The cold that I had picked up was now playing its part as I couldn’t regulate my temperature; one second I was cold, the next too warm. I decided to let go of the wheel in front and ride at my own pace. I drank plenty of Nuun, ate a number of Sponser energy bars, and took huge gulps from the Sponser caffeine tube. Thankfully, the ride was now coming back to me.
Restored to some semblance of normality I engaged fully in the task at hand – the run into Cysoing and then Carrefour – with renewed enthusiasm. With my Specialized Roubaix singing, I was able to hook together corners, entering and exiting the pave sections as if I were Tom Boonen (-ish!). It’s at times like this that riding your bike feels so pure and intimate.
The crown of the pave is narrow and is most often the best place to be, but you need to keep your nerve and despite shouts from behind me, almost indiscernible in the clatter of bike on pave (it’s so quiet in comparison when on the tarmac), which I assumed to be “We’re coming through! Get out the way!”, I never faltered and faster riders were forced off line and into the deeper ruts that I was keen to avoid. At one point I had to brush off a chain of Italian’s with my elbow, which was very exhilarating to do and once more I felt like a pro, or dare I say ‘a la’ Mark Cavendish in the final KM at the Tour?
Along the route are a number of check points staffed by VC Roubaix volunteers and at Cysoing a disco offered welcome non-cycling stimulus that spurred me onto my date with the Carrefour pave. This is where the race is normally settled over a network of the worst category of cobbles; on race day it is thronged with spectators three to four deep!
I approached the Pave de la Justice, 1800 metres of pave, with a real sense of awe. Beyond there lay Carrefour de l’Arbe, a 2110 metre long section of pave, in a section rounded off with the 1000m Pave de Gruson. This triptych of pave is so tough that few ride it completely and I saw a number crash into the adjacent farmer’s crop. I had prepared my mind well, surprisingly well, and for the first time in five editions of the sportive, I was not fixated by the pain in my hands – not immune, but not fixated – and it was a great feeling as I turned left up toward the cafe atop the rise. Here people had assembled to cheer on friends, family members and anyone who stuck to the centre of the pave. I got many shouts of ‘courage’. It felt so cool!
Many people think Paris Roubaix is done and dusted after this point, but beyond de Gruson lies the rough and tough Pave de Hern, a snake like section that, although allowing respite at times with it’s wide gravel verge, still had to be ridden with respect; I saw more near moments around here than anywhere else.
With the pave over, the road to the iconic Roubaix Velodrome is simply a case of navigating through the suburbs on a route differing greatly from the pro-race, even facing a series of traffic lights that really sapped morale and energy from your body.
Cars parked on the celebration kilometre of pave (not really pave of note) made it a simple choice to avoid and I swung into the velodrome with the final lap bell ringing, whistles blowing and cheers from the infield as I hit the track. Sadly there was no one around me to race to the line, but I just sprinted anyway. How could I do otherwise?
Sitting exhausted and battered in the infamous Roubaix Velodrome showers, I had the luck to choose the cubicle inscribed with the name of three time winner Francesco Moser. The stark, uncomfortable nature of the showers would be frowned upon by some who posses little sense of history or place, but for others it’s a place of pilgrimage.
I contemplated that this sportive is ‘old school’. Lacking hype, it offers a relaxed organisational climate and because of it you feel more in touch with the VC Roubaix and their team of local support. I got a sense that they are proud of the race, their sportive, the velodrome (now complete with the addition of a very new indoor velodrome) and this area of the Nord de Calais, an area recovering from economic downturn.
With beer and frites in hand I was told that Rouleur Managing Editor, Ian Cleverly, had given a great impression of my video narrative style to the ‘long’ group as they pedalled and talked on the road sections. It made me laugh to hear this and it rounded off a great day in ‘Hell’.
Paris Roubaix 2010 – Brutal
‘Brutal’, is all I could utter when asked how it went; what else could I say? A little earlier I had fallen into the arms of a friend in Roubaix Velodrome centre. I felt so weak and there was simply nothing left in my body, but my soul was full, very full.
The biannual Paris Roubaix Cyclo Sportive held in June follows the route of the ‘Hell of the North’ professional race, and it also brings out the spectators in droves to enliven the morale of any rider. The event is a matter of great civic pride and as a rider you feel very much welcome by the locals and authorities. Not an entrepreneur in sight, this is an old school event organised locally, giving it a special romantic atmosphere. I was joined by many Brits, not forgetting riders from all across the world. A team from the Basque country ‘won’ the team prize of a giant cobble (I was part of a team who won it a few years back) and they had shown up as if they were the pro squad.