As a cyclist, I have a few items that are on my ‘Bucket List’ and one of those since the mid 90’s is the Paris Roubaix Challenge.
For those who don’t know what this is, its a 172 km ride that includes 29 sectors of cobbled roads, a total of 54.5 km over cobbles!!
It didn’t matter who I asked, no one else wanted to join me on this jolly in April so it looked like I’d have to do it alone (with 6999 other of course!!).
It was booked in October, hotel room, ride entrance, transfers and a new bike just for the ride of course!! The intention was to do the Challenge on Saturday and watch the Pro’s show us how to do it on the Sunday.
Friday was cold, queuing for over an hour to collect the race pack of number, sticker with cobbled sector details and velodrome ticket for the Sunday.
Up at 4.00am on Saturday, I had to ride to another hotel to pick up the coach to take us the 2 hours to the start, eventually arriving at 7.15am in minus 2 degs and a rotten head wind all the way to Roubaix!!
11 km to the first of 29 ‘secteurs’ of pave, it was a real shock to the system, it didn’t matter where you rode, they shook you to the bone. I quickly learnt that you had to be in the right gear before you hit them, I couldn’t ride on the drops and the only place I could put my hands were on the tops of the bars leaving me with bad wrist and finger pains for 3 days afterwards!! Each sector is numbered, along with this they are star rated, 1 to 5 stars, 5 stars being the worse in quality!! Sector 19 is probably the most famous, The Arenberg Forest, over 3 km of big, uneven cobbles. Everyone stopped at the end of the sector just to get their breath and realise what they’ve just done!!
I was lucky, I had no punctures and no mechanical problems, many others were strewn at the sides of the roads fixing punctures, lost chains, seats dropped and lost bottles. Hats off to GB Cycles who built the bike.
The ride finishes in the Velodrome in Roubaix, its a relief after 7.5 hours, 108 miles, over 30 miles of cobblestones just to hit some smooth surfaces!! Collected my medal, my cobblestone on its plaque and headed back to the Hotel for a shower and a nice meal with a good drop of red!!
Sunday we were up at 5.00am to get the coach to the start of the Pro’s race in Compiegne, we watched the teams preparing the bikes, the presentation of the riders, then, before we could watch the start, we were whisked off to catch the race going through the Arenberg Forest, such a rush but so cool to see these guys racing through at 25 mph when I could only manager 12 mph max!! Then, off again to catch the finish in the Velodrome in Roubaix, a worthy winner in Phillip Gilbert, a 36 year old classics rider from Belgium!!
Was it hard, you bet, would I do it again, no way….anyone want to buy a bike built specially for the cobbles?