Saturday, April 7, 2012

Run in with Roubaix

You may have heard all this before, but rehashing for 2012 makes me miss my bike less

The first time I rode the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix was the section from Troisvilles to Inchy, a 2.2km section of relatively easy stones some 100km into the days ride. I was bounced so hard and so violently that I could no longer see - my head was flopping around. The handlebars were wrenched from my grip with virtually every bump. I couldn't reach my gears or brakes, I couldn't move, and I was heading downhill with a steep grass bank rising up round me. In my whole time cycling I had never felt so sure that I was about to crash and take everyone down. Part way through, there was a short gap of tarmac, and as my wheels made contact with the road I swore I would never ride cobbles again.

4 seconds later I was back on the rough stuff, and now I was sprayed with dust and bovine waste as well as being violently beaten by my previous best friend, my bicycle.

There's a reason that we, as cycling fans, gravitate to l'Enfer du Norde, the Hell of the North. Whatever the weather we're given one hell of a spectacle. As a rider I always dreamed of riding the event, and when I realised that beer and studying didn't fit with the PRO lifestyle my dad and I agreed to ride the cyclo-sportive in 2006 (following the success of our trip for the Ronde von Vlaanderen in 2004). I was so excited, I can barely describe it. The day before, on our training ride with the tour group we travelled with, I hit the decorative cobbles in the local town flat out, ready to show who was boss the next day. The naivety I had was a fair equal to my excitement.

12 hours into our ride, having left the hotel at 4am to ride 10km to the start and sat in an Italian club's paceline for 60km, we're both tired. It's been over 30 degrees C since 7am, and we've been eating and drinking everything we can just to stay upright. I'm going to be honest here, the suffer-induced-hallucinations of Roubaix are unlike anything I've seen before, and as I sit behind my dad on a section of tarmac I begin to plot where I will intentionally crash so I can finally stop.

When the professionals ride there's no such luxury as thinking of stopping, and year after year we witness heroic acts by riders who by all rights shouldn't be in a selection of such a prestigious race. Roubaix requires more than just power, or even talent. It requires finesse, grace, an understanding of physics that most students would fail to attain, and a small amount of luck. Tomorrow I'm going to set up my video-stream, crack open a strong Belgian beer, and watch with great enjoyment as the real heroes of the sport, not those Tour de France wimps, show us what cycling is all about. I hope you can join me, wherever you are in the world, in saying Chapeau to the riders of Paris-Roubaix, from top step of the podium to DNF due to mechanical problems.


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