Monday, 23 June 2008

Paris Roubaix Sportive 2008

For some strange reason I got the urge to sign up for this event early in 200 after reading an article about it on here. Unfortunately, I'd missed the article when it was published and the trip was fully booked. The organiser, Scott Bugden, kindly offered me a place on the waiting list, and in the meantime I thought about how I might do it unsupported. Fortunately I was spared the reality of a planned 2am coach trip from the finish line to the start (so I could leave my car at the finish) when a place on Scott's trip became available in April.

I think most keen cyclists/ cycling fans have witnessed the pros tackle Paris Roubaix. It is the stuff of legends. I was keen to sample it myself, so decided to do some research on equipment. I knew the pros often use different bikes for Paris Roubaix. Some good examples of this can be seen in this Cycling Weekly article about the 2008 event. This article shows some riders chose to use cyclocross frames instead of their usual road frame. Partly out of a desire not to destroy my Giant TCR Composite (see below), and partly because I bought a CX bike in at the beginning of the year, I decided to use this. I will add some posts about what I did to prep it for the big day, but it was nothing too dramatic. The homework paid off, and the bike performed brilliantly. This may sound strange, but I now feel I have a bond with it after it got though such harsh conditions without a complaint (OK the headset feels a little notchy, but that's about it). This is what the bike looked like after the race (safely back at home) -

My research also included obtaining a copy of the excellent film of the 1976 Paris Roubaix. You can see a clip of it here. Very 1970s, and I took it with me on the trip so we could watch it on the coach. The commentary includes the following rather alarming words "Year after year this hell is the setting for a veritable Dante's Inferno, with incredible tortures and even martyrdom." This seemed to upset some of the coach party!

So how did it go? It was a truly fantastic day all in all - probably the best day on a bike I have ever had. After a very early start I completed the 260km distance in 10hrs 23mins, which included a couple of quite lengthy stops at the first 2 feed stations (there were loads, and all excellent) while we waited for various members of our group. I got more and more anxious to get on with proceedings as the day went on, and once I gained confidence over the cobbles, I set out on my own to tackle the last 100km. I felt great, and swinging into the Velodrome at Roubaix was such a great feeling.

I have to admit though, the cobbles were absolutely terrifying at first. The first section (Troisville) was still wet and muddy from the previous day's rain. And this was supposed to be one of the easier sections (according to my nerdy colour-coded chart - see below). This really was "Shock and Awe" - my shock at the severity of the cobbles, and awe at the pros tackling them at race speed. It was clear that if you were riding at race speed on this surface and you lost it, a serious injury was highly likely (as a few people discovered). Downhill on wet and muddy cobbles was clearly a serious challenge.

One of the great things about this event is that you can cover 100km on nice French roads and then the rest of the distance is so broken up with the 28 sections of pave, that you never really get bored. The technique I adopted (which seems to be the most commonly used) was as follows -

  1. use the margins and edges where possible, otherwise stay on the smoothest part available (usually the middle) - don't be a hero;

  2. push a big gear, hold the top of the bars and power across at a reasoble pace (I aimed for 24-28km/h); and

  3. respect your equipment - don't abuse the bike if you don't have to, but equally don't pussy-foot around - be confident.
And the reward at the end? Well, a shower in the famous showers was a truly amazing experience, changing in the cubicle named in honour of the 2003 winner -

And being so close to the Belgian border, the frites were good and came with plenty of mayo!
More stories here.