April 22, 2014
My story begins back in August, when persuaded by a friend and fellow club member Lee Davies to do the Hell of the North - Paris Roubaix
So it was time to start training again, as my intended winter rest period went out the window. I mixed speed sessions on the Turbo with some long hard rides on the road - often in cold and wet conditions - but convinced myself it was worth it, as the Paris-Roubaix weather can be notoriously miserable with rain, sleet and sometimes even snow turning the cobbles to quagmire. It’s all part of the legend, and part of the reason why the race is known as the Hell of the North.
The Bike setup is as important as the training and its something that I thought long and hard about.
With so many options out there I didnt want to stray to far away from something I have been used to. People bang on about cyclocross bikes, Titanium or steel frames. In my opinion Carbon is so advanced these days I was happy to use my Look 675 ( The same bike as team Cofidies have been using for the classics) as weapon of choice with some small adjustments. Which brings me to…
Wheels and Tyres
I needed something strong but me being me they had to look good! I had been using Fulcrum Red Wind 50mm Carbon wheels with a alloy braking surface for a good few months and found them to be super strong whilst fast. Fair to say many advised me against this wheel choice, but gone are the days where you need 36h hand built strong heavy wheels. Just look at how the pros have changed their setup even over the past few years. Next was the tyres. These had to be wide and tough! I opted for 28c Conti All season Marathon tyres with extra puncture protection. I tested these for a few rides before heading to france to make sure there would be no problems with tyre rub etc. The extra width allow me to run much lower pressure than normal to help cope with the harsh cobble sectors. 75psi for both front and back a lot lower than the normall 120psi I would normally run.
It worked! At every section of the cobbles was other riders mending punctures. Whether it was luck or judgement, I don’t know, but I covered the 108 miles without a single puncture.
Following advice from others top of the wheels and tyres, I made a few more adjustments to my bike to cope with the rough conditions.
I raised the stem position a little higher than normal giving me a little more comfortable riding position. I made sure the bottle cages held the bottles in tight I used the new Elite Gauge cages although plastic they are very well designed and do not rattle about. I used a gel bar tape to help the vibration although next time I will definitely double up on the bar tape. lastly, Kit was an important choice for me. Luckily we just recieved our new Club Kit from Craft. I must say the shorts had the best padding in them I have ever used to my delight. I used gloves with Gel parms again to help with the vibration of gripping the bars and finally Custom Shimano Fitted Shoes made one hell of a differance! Riding the pave the first thing you notice is your feet and hands go numb almost immediately I'm sure I would have suffered further without these choices.
And what of the ride itself? It was tough! Very tough but I loved it!!!
It was a early start. Myself and Lee woke up at 4am Forced a little breakfast of coffee and porridge. Having parked near the velodrome in Roubaix, we headed to the pick up point where a bus shipped us and our bikes on a 2 hour journey towards the start.
The start was cold, and very misty but the weather was dry, and by mid-morning the sun came out to turn the early patches of mud into dust. Startng towards the front we found ourselves amongst some quick riders and as it does the pace began to increase from the beginning.
Groups quickly formed and before I knew it the first sector 28 had arrived. Although I am a keen Mountain Bike rider and was hoping these skills would help me over the pave, riding them on a Carbon Road bike with 28mm tyres is slightly different and fair to say I felt every single cobblestone on that first sector.
I began to watch other riders and quickly adapted my riding to copy them. Hands on the top, Pushing big gears and mostly riding on the crown of the road. The faster you hit these thing the easier it is! (Easy to say. hard to do!)
Between the sectors I found myself in a group of 10 riders. As the pace hotted up it seemed at one point we all nodded to each other and began chain-ganging, something I'll never forget! 10 riders from all around the world. Although not one of them could speak English We could all understand one language. the language of cycling!
The most memorable sections were, of course, the classic Arenberg forest. Long hard and never ending!
Even with all the preparations the constant vibrations eventually took its toll. The last 20k was a matter of hanging in there, my hands, arms and back felt like they were about to give up, but with grit and determination and knowing my family and friends were at the finish I kept up the pace till finally I entered the legendary Roubaix velodrome where a emotion filled lap of the track polished off an amazing ride I will never forget.
My finish time was 6hrs 27 minutes
Would I do it again? Ohh yes! The Paris-Roubaix Challenge was a fantastic event - well-organised and with a great atmosphere - while riding the 100-year-old classic route in the tyretracks of so many legends is an amazing experience for any cycling fan.