While the local ACC riders were tackling the fearsome Mur de Mihi last weekend, a lone breakaway rider made his way to the hallowed pavé cobbles of Northern France to take on the infamous “Hell of the North” Paris Roubaix!
As the pro riders rested their race legs on the day before the big race, several thousand amateurs had the chance to tackle the main sections of the race route in the official Sportive, covering 150km and 20 sectors of the pavé including the infamous 5* sections Troué D’Arenberg, Mons-en-Pével, and Carrefour de l’Arbre. And so a cold but mercifully dry morning greeted the hardy souls who were mad enough to give the brutal parcours a red-hot go.
The first 50km of riding took in the country roads and villages of the local area on smooth tarmac, and the event was incredibly well organised with motorbike escorts and event marshals stopping traffic at every junction to let riders through unimpeded. A fast group and a brisk tailwind meant that all too soon the Arenberg Forest was in sight and it was time to tackle the cobbles and see what all the fuss was about.
It’s hard to describe what the pavé is like, but the above video gives small taste of what’s in store as you hit the cobbles for the first time. The handlebars are smashed into your wrists like a jackhammer, while your back is taking the same treatment from the saddle. Riding on the crown of the “road” is the best option (unless you opt-out and ride the gravel on the roadside), but even here the stones are so uneven that it feels as though your whole body is being pulverised. After what feels like an age, the Arenberg sector comes to an end, and silky smooth tarmac offers a chance for some recovery before taking on the next cobbled sector.
After many sectors of more brutal punishment (don’t let the * rating fool you, they are all terrible), the finish at the Roubaix velodrome approaches, with only the 5* Carrefour de l’Arbre pavé standing in the way. And what a final punch in the teeth this offers – as you try and haul tired limbs and aching hands across the cobbles, the bikes hits you like a bucking bronco. Ironically the best option is to peddle as hard and as fast as you can in a desperate effort to “float” across the cobbles and reduce the ricochet.
With the pavé done, the race is completed with a ceremonial ride into the Roubaix velodrome, and the goosebumps rise up as you ride legendary banked turns before rolling over the finish line and taking in the days achievements. Needless to say post-race refuelling involved a trip to the local patisserie and several local beers!
For everyone who rode the sportive, there is the chance to return to the velodrome the next day to watch the race on a big screen while enjoying some essential recovery bier et frites in a special reserved section, before watching the lead riders enter the velodrome to battle out the final sprint. And like a gladiatorial arena, the race did not disappoint, with Philip Gilbert taking out a famous win and his 5th Monument.
All that was left was to bid adieu to Roubaix and France, and look forward to returning to the local classics still to race!