The Hell of the North ( The Paris Roubaix Challenge)

I see the entries for the Paris Roubaix Challenge opened on the 15th of November. Of all the sportives I’ve ever done, I have the fondest memories of this cobbled beauty. It’s not that the scenery is amazing, but rather it’s a real challenge and certainly not for the faint hearted. Some vow never to do it again,  but others relish in it’s absurdity and there’s plenty of that! If you’re lucky the 30 cobbled sections will be dry but if you are to experience the best Paris Roubaix can throw at you, it will be a muddy, slippery hell. Would I do it again? You bet I would. We can all train ourselves to pedal longer and faster, but this special sportive requires a tenacity and doggedness that we don’t all have. I love attrition so this really ‘floats my boat’. It’s not about riding fast but all about arriving in the historic Roubaix Velodrome in one piece, wheels still going round and with minimal damage to one’s body.

I love planning new adventures. They keep me motivated when the going gets tough. Maybe a date with the Paris Roubaix Challenge on the 13th of April 2019, could be just the thing you’re looking for in the New Year?

I wrote the article below having just completed my first Paris Roubaix in 2015. I’m hoping it’s both infectious and informative and may just spur you on to get an entry. Best be quick because it’s very popular. Hard is very appealing these days and makes a great story in the pub. Best of luck and wear your post race t-shirt with pride!

The link for entries is below-

https://www.parisroubaixchallenge.com

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

Starting off in Busigny in the rain.

At 7:30 am on a cold wet morning, I set off with 4,499 other hardy souls to ride the Paris Roubaix Challenge. In a nutshell it’s a sportive run the day before the professional Spring Classic, in April. Starting from the sleepy town of Busigny, it offers 170 km of mixed terrain, including all the cobbled sections, that the pros ride. For those of a nervous disposition there are shorter options available. Would I do it again? You bet I would! I loved it, for all it’s attrition and the range of emotions that make up the Paris Roubaix classic.

 

The first sector of cobbles are like an obstacle course. Bottles, some still attached to the cage, pumps, saddle bags and spare tubes lay strewn across the track. After a while you realise that your eye balls are rattling in your head and the crown of the cobbles, just doesn’t look in focus any more. At one stage I swear my head just hurt from the constant jolting. The mud, grass, tussocks and stones at the side become a seductive alternative. After this experience, I wouldn’t bat an eye lid, if someone suggested I rode my best road bike through my local woods.

Near Busigny

Near Busigny

All too soon the Trouée d’ Arenberg appeared in the distance. There’s a sense of impending doom and excitement. Camper vans are squashed into every available space, there are hoards of spectators lining the route. Cyclists nervously look around, plucking up the courage to enter this legendary section. I was beside myself, I was there! This is the iconic bit, that you always see on T.V. These are the cobbles I had been watching ‘Cobbles Cancellara‘ hack along during those Sufferfest, four minute intervals.

A liberal covering of greasy mud, ensured the full Arenberg experience. I scooted around some poor soul receiving medical attention, in the middle of the track. The challenge is to find the smoothest line and avoid riders and debris on the floor. I pedalled as though my life depended on it, moving from the crown of the track, to the off camber and sometimes even ploughing through the mud at the side.

When I think back, the whole thing really makes me smile. What type of perverse person, would ever think that this was a good route for a road race? After this classic section you kind of think you’re in the clear, but there are still many miles to cover and more pavé to rattle over. The last part just becomes ‘mind games’. Your hands feel sore and your arms pulverised. Signs for Roubaix, pick the spirits up and a lap of the legendary track, makes you realise it was all worth it.

Roubaix Velodrome

Roubaix Velodrome

Here’s a list of the changes I made to my bike to help both machine and body make it to the finish. I am pleased to say I finished both puncture and blister free!
* Double taped handle bars
* Tight fitting bottles cages which always keep the bottle under tension
* Vittoria open pave 27mm tyres
* Fi zik Antares versa saddle with a groove
* Spare tubes, pump, tools etc stowed in deep back pockets
* Pearl  Izumi gel padded track mits

The only other thing I would suggest that you consider is; the long option from Busigny to Roubaix is a point to point route. There is a bus to transport both you and your bike to the start from Roubaix at 5:30 a.m, but it fills up very very quickly. Ideally you need a driver to drop you off in Busigny. The drive from Busigny back up to Roubaix takes about an hour and a half.

On reflection, it was a tough, amazing experience, requiring determination, a bit of courage and preparation. I can’t encourage you enough, to have a go. Can you have the same thing on your bucket list every year??

Fancy something different? Why not give cyclocross a go this Winter?

Looking for something exciting to do this Winter? Cyclocross provides a high intensity work out, to keep you motivated in a fun packed atmosphere. The Cyclocross season is about to start, with races up and down the country. Details can be found on the British Cycling Cyclocross page. If you like short sharp racing where you can turn up, race round and be back on the settee for tea time, this could be for you!

It’s a discipline full of contrasts and that’s why I love it. I start racing in September with my sunglasses,on dry and fast terrain but finish in January/February with as many clothes on as possible, up to my knees in mud. Courses can be a mixture of terrain, ranging from grass, woodland, road and gravel tracks,each requiring a different style of riding. Off camber, banks and steps all add to the fun and provide a different skill, perfected by the serious cross rider. I am no power house but the different elements of cross enable me to make gains in different areas, so it almost becomes a case of ‘horses for courses’. Clearly if you want to be a good cross rider you need technique, speed and strength. Don’t let that put you off! Cross is full of fun loving weekend warriors, who are up for something different. Let’s face it you’ve got to have a sense of humour to hack round a muddy field in the depths of Winter only glad in lycra.

No you don’t need a cross bike to race at local or regional level, a mountain bike will do. That’s how we all start and as for the kids, well there’re usually races for even the smallest. A truly inclusive sport which caters for all, have a go!  It’s very addictive and when you complete that race knee deep in mud, you’ve scaled that muddy bank which felt like the Eiger, you’re going to feel so proud of yourself. Arrrrrh that warm glow when you’ve done something really worthwhile. See you there!

If you’re still in two minds maybe this little trailer will change your mind. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but then I love cyclocross!

Le Cinglé Challenge

I have cycled up the three different routes to the summit of Mont Ventoux many times. I’ve struggled with the heat, the wind and the gradient and have always thought tackling all three in one day was total madness. Why the hell would anyone ever want to do that? The thought of crawling in temperatures often in the 30s just didn’t appeal, until last year, in August! Yes, I choose the hottest time of the year, but I was well acclimatised and had just cycled across the Pyrenees, so I knew I was ready. Sometimes opportunity comes along and you’ve just got to go for it, so I did!

Known as the Giant of Provence, situated in the Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux is a very special mountain. In the relative flatness of the surrounding area, it dominates the skyline. The white stones on the top give it a ‘snowy topped’ appearance. This adds to it’s majestic beauty. It’s unlike any other French mountain, I have climbed. It’s truly unique.

So on to the practicalities:
I started in Malaucéne and went up the summit; down to Bédoin; back to the summit; down to Sault; returned to the summit and back down to Malaucéne. The Bédoin route is the Tour de France up, so usually has writing on the road and you will undoubtedly end up accompanied by numerous other ‘wannabies’. This all adds to the fun of what is a fairly arduous climb with many twists and turns. The route up from Malaucéne I personally always find mentally harder as it has long stretches of 8/9 % which look as though they go on for ever! It’s a serious case of ‘mind games’. Guess this is why I choose this accent first, just to get it out of the way! The route up from Sault is always completed last because with it’s easier gradient, it proves to be a bit of welcomed relief. I haven’t mentioned any of the descents because it’s unnecessary. They are what they are but do take care of the route down to Bédoin. With the volume of riders coming up, it’s not unusual to find overtaking cars on the wrong side of the carriage way.

Water is available at the fountains in all 3 towns. If it’s non- portable i.e not for drinking it usually says so. Water is also available in the toilets at the side of Chalét Reynard, part way up.

I used a compact chain set with 11-32 sprockets on the back. 4332 metres of climbing is a maul too far for anyone!

Start as early as you can so at least 2 ascents can be completed before the midday heat. I started at 6 a.m but some begin at 4, in order to see the sun rise on the summit.

Completing this ride was a personal challenge which I set myself. For those who enjoy having a carnet stamped with a time, as evidence of their ride,y ou may choose to register with the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux http://www.clubcinglesventoux.org/en/…

Looking back I feel a real sense of achievement. It’s a challenge on many cyclist’s bucket list and has the added bonus, that it can easily be completed without support.

Top tip: pace yourself, stay well hydrated, remember to refuel with both food and an isotonic drink and you’re almost there. With some cycling in the heat and a few hilly miles behind you, anything is possible. Go for it!

 

 

It’s the end of the cyclocross season so what’s next?

By mid January I started to crave the end of the cyclocross season. ‘I’m sick to death of bike cleaning, soaking mud caked clothing and generally sorting out mess,’ I recall thinking. After a few weeks of active rest i.e do what you fancy, I now find myself at a bit of a loose end. In fact,if I found a cross race this weekend,I’d probably be beside myself with excitement. Clearly I am recalling that bucket of soaking muddy clothes,through rose tinted glasses. ‘So what’s next?’I ask myself. Well I know I always find fell running a welcome relief. In fact I done a fair bit of off road running recently. For me it’s food for the soul. An eclectic mix of challenging uphills; sliding about in the mud; being at one with nature with a personal challenge thrown in for good measure. Even if I have a number on my back,I have no competitive thoughts,just the purity of doing my personal best with no expectation. It’s that simple.

Now it’s time to return to some cycling structured training and I can see that I’ll need some highlights. I’m thinking about some competitive goals on the way but ‘oh what to choose?’ Should it be a few MTB races, MTB marathons, road races or may be even the track? Which of these gets a high’fun factor’ rating and yet steers me towards my long term goal,improving my cross performance?

I have no doubt many cyclocrossers go through the same thought process? So I have had a ‘surf’ on our behalf.I’ve found this short article,linked below, which hopefully you’ll find useful. May be the question we have to ask ourselves is,”what do I need to improve?’ Then we can make an informed choice. Enjoy!

Summer options for cross racers

Why we should embrace failure.

Notts and Derby Cyclocross League

Last week I read a article about the importance of accepting that things won’t always go as planned. It’s not always easy to accept but the moment we put the front wheel on the start line, it’s a risk we have to deal with. Great athletes seem to recover from failure, dust themselves down and come back strong. How do they do that?

Here’s a link to an article about developing the mental toughness such events require.  A lesson for life as well as sporting success?? I think so. Enjoy.
Thank you Mick Bown for a great picture, taken at yesterday’s Notts and Derby cx race at Holme Pierrepont. 9th at out 34, not bad for an old bird. I can live with that. 

Fancy something different? There’s still time to give cyclocross a go this Winter.

Looking for something exciting to do this Winter? There’s still time and lots of races left so why not give cyclocross a go? Details can be found on the British Cycling Cyclocross page. If you like short sharp racing where you can turn up, race round and be back on the settee for tea time, this could be for you!

It’s a discipline full of contrasts and that’s why I love it. I start racing in September with my sunglasses,on dry and fast terrain but finish in January/February with as many clothes on as possible, up to my knees in mud. Courses can be a mixture of terrain, ranging from grass, woodland, road and gravel tracks,each requiring a different style of riding. Off camber, banks and steps all add to the fun and provide a different skill, perfected by the serious cross rider. I am no power house but the different elements of cross enable me to make gains in different areas, so it almost becomes a case of ‘horses for courses’. Clearly if you want to be a good cross rider you need technique, speed and strength. Don’t let that put you off! Cross is full of fun loving weekend warriors, who are up for something different. Let’s face it you’ve got to have a sense of humour to hack round a muddy field in the depths of Winter only glad in lycra.

No you don’t need a cross bike to race at local or regional level, a mountain bike will do. That’s how we all start and as for the kids, well there’re usually races for even the smallest. A truly inclusive sport which caters for all, have a go!  It’s very addictive and when you complete that race knee deep in mud, you’ve scaled that muddy bank which felt like the Eiger, you’re going to feel so proud of yourself. Arrrrrh that warm glow when you’ve done something really worthwhile. See you there!

If you’re still in two minds maybe this little trailer will change your mind. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, but then I love cyclocross!

A Practical Guide To Riding A Granfondo Or Sportive

Click for larger

In the Start Box – Click for Larger

Feeding- despite the provision of feed stations on the route, they should never be relied upon. Ensure you have enough food for the bulk of the ride. Personally I like to think of the feed stations as additional. For last week’s event I had three energy bars, opened in my back pocket, one gel with caffeine (to be taken with a water) and a cheese roll made from soft bread cut into small pieces. I find that a constant intake of sweet food, makes me nauseous, so cheese works well. I wrap the small bits of roll in silver foil which I can unwrap with my teeth, whilst still on the move. You really won’t have time to stop constantly for eating, so work out a strategy for refuelling on the move, hence the need for having the bars already opened.

Drink- always start off with two 750 ml bottles of tried and tested carbohydrate drink. Yes, they may have refills on the route, but your own carbo hopefully will get you through the first three hours. After that, you can top up with any provided on the course, or you could even choose to have more powder in your pocket and use their water to top up. If it’s hot, mixing the carbo slightly weaker than normal will help you rehydrate, but you will need to refuel in another way. As the ride progresses and ‘carboed out’ I personally like water. It makes me feel like I am ‘running clean’ and is more refreshing. At last week’s event I had a real dip at about three and a half hours. I started drinking Coke and water because I needed a ‘pick up’! Usually this would create an insulin rebound and make your blood sugar drop, but if you are already exercising, it will give you a big ‘kick start’ because of the caffeine and sugar mix. For me this work’s brilliantly. What ever you choose to do, never skimp on liquid. It will sabotage your performance and could risk your health. If you are getting to the end of the ride and find you are carrying too much, just ditch it.

Finishing MedalsEquipment- it makes sense to have a small repair kit with you and at least 1 spare tube, even if there’s mechanical support. Time wasted waiting for assistance, can make you miss a time cut off. Make sure you have the correct tyres for the job. Last week’s route was on lots of pavé (cobbles), which is a bit of a feature in Portugal, so I rode round with 25mm Vittoria Pavés which for me are are bomb proof! They are what I used on the Paris-Roubaix sportive. If it’s a hilly course, make sure you are not under geared. At the moment, I am using 11-32 sprockets on the back. Sure, I don’t always use that 32, but last weekend when I still had 10km of 7% to go up and the temperature had hit 34 degrees, I was grateful it was there. So to the men who thought they could maul their way up it, the reason this old gal’ over took you, was because she could sit down, spin and save what little energy she still had left! It’s a hard lesson I know but the ability to spin is your friend, as Chris Froome repeatedly shows us. I rest my case!

Choice of distance- it’s very easy to choose a really hard course from the comfort of your settee. Yes, you want to set yourself a personal challenge, but the ultimate aim is to complete it in style and enjoy it. Is it best to crawl round and finish just as the course closes or is better to hack round a slightly shorter route, passing some people on the way? Remember,the longest course will have the fastest riders, so unless you can ride with them in a bunch, you may end up riding a personal time trial. I have to lay my cards on the table here, I have done both! I do quite like the ’nipping round with style’ option. There’s nothing better than a bit of acceleration!

Race for the Finish!Personal effects and clothing- last but not least, always wear good shorts you have ridden in before and don’t forget a liberal amount of chamois cream. Yes it’s a funny subject but, do you really want to be walking like John Wayne for the following week? Long endurance events blitz our immune systems and we need to do everything we can to keep ourselves in one piece. On that note if you are lucky enough to be wrecking yourself in the sun, don’t forget sunblock. You already risk, feeling like you’ve aged 50 years on Monday, so you don’t want to look like it too!
I have tried to include all the things I think about in my preparation for events such as Granfondos and sportives. If there’s anything I haven’t covered or clarified, I will quite happily answer any questions via my blog. Whilst I have enjoyed top level competition, it’s some of these mass participation events which will stick in my mind forever. They are fantastic personal challenges which can be tailored to your level of fitness, so be brave and get an entry in now!