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.
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.
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??
Well that’s next Easter sorted out for me!
As the end of cross season draws near I find myself thinking about new challenges for the year, I love planning. It motivates me and keeps me focused. Let’s face it, it doesn’t matter how determined you are, sometimes we all need something to get our backsides out of the door!
I want to have some personal challenges sprinkled with a few competitive ones. Cross has been really motivating and exciting, but it’s time to focus on a few other things before September rolls around once more. So here is my list for the year. fingers crossed I get entries 🙂
Paris – Roubaix sportive – 170km including enough cobbles to rattle all my fillings out.
The Fred Whitton Challenge – 112 miles in the Lake District with the best ups and downs the Lakes has to offer.
The 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race- a torturous course taking in the three biggest peaks in Yorkshire. A true test of fitness, skill, tenacity and sheer bloody mindedness. A determined effort to put all back issues behind me, literally, will get me in the position to accept an entry. Many fingers crossed for this one. It’s mad, it’s hell, but has a special place in my heart.
Mary Townley loop – didn’t make it this last year. Set in beautiful countryside. A 47 mile off road loop above the Pennine Bridleway, with a frightening number of gates to negotiate. What the hell! All that jumping on and off will do me good!
Return to cross racing in September with renewed vigour and determination to have fun and achieve my personal best! So what’s on your list? You might just inspire someone else!
The best bit of racing during the Winter means I can be indulgent and slowly plod through all the things on my bucket list. I don’t have to worry about tapering or recovering! So when asked what I wanted for my birthday it was easy. Not matching handbag and shoes, but the chance to ride the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo.
In preparation I racked up a few extra miles, taking in the pleasures of the Cheshire Cat on the way and a crawl up the infamous Mow Cop. I had the miles, sorted the gearing and so just needed to get on the Shuttle.
Lucky for me, I have friends in Ghent. Once in Calais, the journey was an easy hour and a half. I had reservations about being in Ghent, aware that many people stay in Brugge, but it was perfect and only took thirty minutes to get to Oudenaarde. Oudenaarde is the Cyclo’s administrative centre and the start of the middle and short courses. All the courses finish there too.
I signed on Friday afternoon to avoid the Saturday morning panic.The town was already packed and humming with impending excitement. I felt more nervous than I do for a race! Continue reading