ON THE ROAD: PARIS-ROUBAIX CHALLENGE
Want to know how it feels to ride over 19 sectors of pavé? From iconic locations to catastrophic mechanical failure, we get the low down on the Paris-Roubaix Challenge from three friends of The Handmade Cyclist. And before you ask, yes we are planning to do it ourselves this time next year…
Why did you want to do Paris-Roubaix?
LEE: Paris Roubaix is definitely a ‘bucket list’ ride for any cyclist – the opportunity to ride on the infamous cobbled sectors. I wanted to test myself on this demanding route and gain an appreciation for the professionals racing the same route the following day.
FRED: Having watched the race on TV and spectated many times I wanted to see how tough it really is. It also gave me the opportunity to visit and stay with my family who live a couple of miles from the Roubaix velodrome.
RICH: I did Flanders last year which gave me a taste of riding on cobbles. Paris-Roubaix is such an iconic race that it was the next logical choice. Also, I am not exactly built like a flyweight climber so the Paris-Roubaix has the added attraction of being more suited to my strengths!
How did you prepare yourself and your bike?
LEE: I used a Boardman Team CX cyclocross bike. I needed it to stand up to some punishing treatment and not rattle itself to bits on the cobbles, but also be fast on the tarmac roads.
I used metal bottle cages, bent in to hold bottles in place. I also changed the handlebar tape and installed gel pads underneath to help absorb some of the vibrations. I fitted Continental Gatorskin 28mm tyres to help with puncture protection and used pressures of 65psi front and 70psi rear. I also carried three spare inner tubes in my saddle bag, just in case!
One of my training rides was a 100km on a rough cycle track, to help me get used to riding on that sort of terrain and to prepare me for the cobbles.
FRED: Long rides over the winter including a 215km sportive in Belgium (Gent-Wevelgem) a couple of weeks before the event. On the day I rode my cyclocross bike which was fitted with 32mm tyres (running at 65 psi) and I double taped the handlebars to try and absorb some of the vibrations on the cobbles.
RICH: I tried to focus on strength and endurance rides, but I probably put more thought into preparing the bike than I did myself. The bike was equipped with 32mm tyres, double wrap bar tape and aluminium cages to hold my bidons in place. All cables and bolts were checked before the event.
Ultimately my bike prep was in vain. The first sector of the day was the infamous Arenberg. It was muddy and slippery. Riders were sliding all over the place. I made a move to get past some slower riders and as I pulled away, there was an ominous crunching sound and I skidded to a halt. Initially I thought my chain was jammed, but I then realised it was a fairly catastrophic mechanical failure. My rear mech was detatched and tangled in my spokes. It seems the chain had become jammed in the jockey wheels and then just ripped everything apart as I tried to pull away. The rear mech was bent, the chain was bent and useless, the jockey wheels had disintegrated and the rear mech hanger had snapped. With the chain damaged I couldn't even convert to a single speed; not that I would have got very far on cobbles! I was left to hobble back down the Arenberg in search of some assistance which never materialised. I was absolutely gutted that the day would end with not even a single sector complete.
What were the highlights of your weekend, and why?
LEE: Highlights for me were riding the three big ‘5 star’ cobbled sectors without falling off my bike! Also, riding through beautiful French countryside in glorious weather, being willed on by enthusiastic by-standers, chatting to fellow cyclists from different countries. Completing the challenge by riding into the famous Roubaix Velodrome at the finish was also very special.
FRED: It was a great weekend, the sun was shining, the legs felt good and I did not suffer any mechanical problems, crashes or punctures. But the main highlight for me was the entrance into the Roubaix Velodrome, an iconic place that has witnessed so much cycling history.
What were the biggest challenges of the weekend, and why?
LEE: Certainly the biggest challenges were ALL 19 cobbled sectors! The first at Arenberg being by far the hardest, due to the mud over the cobbles causing my bike wheels to slip and slide all over the place. Just keeping the bike straight through that sector was very challenging and trying to avoid hitting other cyclists travelling at different speeds.
As time went by, the toll on my body started to have an effect. My hands, fingers and arms became incredibly sore, my handlebar tape started to unravel and the cobbled sectors were coming thick and fast. Just when you thought a sector was over, another one would start. It was relentless and brutal, but you just had to keep on going. There was no ‘exit route’!
FRED: The last few cobbled sections were particularly painful for the hands and wrists to a point where I really struggled to hold on to the handlebars.
RICH: Ordering a taxi to take me back to Roubaix! Despite the local bar tabac being filled with locals at 11:30 in the morning not one of them could muster the number for a taxi company. This could have something to do with my sub-standard GCSE French, the vast volumes of Pastis being consumed, or most likely a combination of the two.
How did you feel at the finish?
LEE: Due to the brutality of the ride, crossing the line on the Roubaix Velodrome was pure elation! Just so thankful I completed it in one piece (both myself and my bike). I had a big smile on my face. I certainly enjoyed the post ride beer!
FRED: Crossing the finishing line felt like a great sense of achievement. Riding Paris-Roubaix is a once in a lifetime experience and you cannot truly appreciate what the pros are going through until you have done it yourself.
If you did Paris-Roubaix again what would you do differently?
LEE: The Paris Roubaix challenge was an incredible experience. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone who’s not done it before, but it’s not one I think I would want to experience again. It really was the ‘Hell of the North’!
FRED: I would pray for nice weather. We were lucky this year but I cannot even imagine what it is like to ride on wet cobbles...
RICH: Hotels are already booked for next year. The plan? To complete at least one sector of pavé!
Chapeau to Lee Davis, Fred Frizzarin and Rich Petherick for their Paris-Roubaix achievements and here is Peter Sagan showing them how its done..