Paris Roubaix 2010 ~ Paul Woodhouse

Paris RoubaixHaving earned my spurs in the Tour of Flanders, I didn’t mind at all that the day was sunny and warm, with a tail wind forecast for the whole ride.

We set off early doors, along with lots of others, through very picturesque French countryside.  Very soon I found myself barrelling along at 40-48kph rolling through and off  at the head of a 200+ strong bunch. 

roubaix cobbles ~ Arenberg

They know how to ride these French chaps, no cycle paths to worry about here.  Paris- Roubaix isn’t flat though, that’s a myth, there are lots of rolling hills before you hit the pave.  You don’t need a compact but you have to come out of the big ring now and then. 

With only around a tenth of the number of riders that do Flanders, still around three thousand though, means that the feed-stops aren’t congested.  They  can be brisk affairs to refill the bottles and get the card stamped which you need to in order to collect the goodies at the end and claim your cobble.

Here's The Bumpy Bits
All that changed with the first cobbled sector at Troisvilles.  It was carnage.  It soon became every man for himself as bottles flew, punctures started  and people ground to a halt or slid around in the dust that coated the tops of the cobbles in tiny ball-bearings. 

Troisvilles

I hit them as hard as I could.  A huge credit to Tony here, for devising the Escalating Intervals session – I had hurt myself a lot doing these over the winter and they really paid off.  I tried to maintain my momentum and it worked. Though at 65 kilos I was bouncing around more than the big Belgian and Dutch lads.

So this continued for a few sectors, with the alternating bliss of tarmac which felt as though someone had provided fresh carpet for you to ride on as a reward.  Then it rained.  It rained a lot.

Slippy Bumpy Bits!
The rain just served to increase the carnage levels.  The roadsides became littered with riders suffering punctures, broken wheels and broken bikes.  I saw one rider reach down to see what was wrong with his seatpost only to take it off in his hand where it had sheared. 

For what it’s worth I rode my best bike because that is what I have it for.  It’s carbon and it stood up fine. 

You began to see broken people as well.  Not physically but mentally as they walked along at the side of the pave with their heads bowed.  It was becoming a battle of mud and guts and willpower.  It even looked like a battlefield and you could see why it was called the “Hell of the North”.

Riding on the crown as fast and as hard as you could seemed to work OK, though clearly nowhere near as hard and fast as the pros do.  The big problem was trying to pass people and the worry of having to go off the best “line” into the ragged sides of the road and the puddles of unknown depth but I didn’t want to lose what momentum I had as trying to get up to speed again seemed worse.

Arenberg

Arenberg (above) was a different matter again.  It isn’t a road, it’s as though someone has  thrown bricks from a helicopter down through the middle of a forest along a pretty straight line for a joke just to see if anyone will go down there. 

It was immensely hard and other-wordly in its intensity of the punishment it was handing out.  But ride it I did and straight down the middle.  Remember they barrier the flat cinders off to force the pros along here and I wanted to know what it was like. 

Flat Mountains
It’s not the percentage that gets you as these sectors are all flat or flattish but it’s the equivalent of a big session on De Koninck.  There are 26 of them to tackle and by the end you are mentally drained through trying to stay upright while someone else has taken control of your legs. 

I remember things as though in hung-over flashback: the almost pointed crown on one sector that was like trying to follow a rail; the relentless three sectors in a row and in total over 7km near the end that just seemed to go on and on.

The strange beauty of riding hard through a field of wheat along a ragged track; and the surprise on reaching Carrefour L’Arbre.  Why surprise?, well on the telly there are barriers and crowds and flags and you think you will recognise it but without those things it’s in a field and it just appears like a mirage in the desert.  I even managed to get this cool photo there.

paul woodhouse

Despite the fact that towards the end I hurt pretty much everywhere, I was pleased that I still had some speed to give and the tarmac was flying by because I knew I was going to finish now (not that I was ever going to do anything else unless my bike broke). 

Finishing in the velodrome was special and I was grinning from ear to ear. 

I was grinning even more early the next morning after lots of Chimay in the bar with all the others in our party. 

I grin whenever I look at the small cobble trophy in my sitting room.

Before anyone asks, would I do it again?  The very next chance I get.

kelly roubaix 1983

Joining the hard men.  Kelly, Cancellara, Woodhouse