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Riding and watching Paris-Roubaix

How the seasons turn... But a few week's ago we were agog for cobbles but now thoughts turn to stage racing... Well let me take you back to those heady times with some video and photos...

Paris-Roubaix has a special place in my heart - not only is it a great race it's the one which turned me from a follower of the Tour de France into a cycling fan. It's probably not my favourite race (the Ronde or the Giro take those honours) but it's still up there. And with northern France being not far from London it was inevitable I'd go and watch it one day. With A.S.O. deciding to run a sportive version over mostly the same roads the day before this was going to be the year I both rode it and watched the race...

So how was it? Find out after the jump plus some photos from the pro race...

In a word "hard". At the end of the race I was fatigued in a way that I didn't think possible despite having done 100 mile plus days in the Alpes and Pyrenees before. Riding the cobbles shakes and rattles you around - I knew that - but I wasn't prepared for how they sapped your momentum and your energy. Every metre has to be earned and it's best done in a big gear going as fast as you can. And afterwards you don't have the respite of a descent like you do on a climby course. On top of that the roads in between the pavé are often twisty, turny and exposed making it hard work unless you're towards the front of the bunch.

This small taste of what it must be like to race Paris-Roubaix was one of the things that made doing the sportive version worthwhile. It was also very well run. The marshalling was excellent - though not the closed roads we'd been promised I think I flew through most junctions as someone was holding up traffic for cyclists. And the food stops were frequent and well-stocked with both sweet and savoury food. There were a few niggles (cold showers at the end and a long wait for a shuttle back to the start) but those were minor. Even the shortening of the route and the lack of closed roads didn't bother me too much - particularly with a refund of the entry fee.

So would I do it again? Possibly. As I say in the video I had a satisfying sense of accomplishment at the end but it wasn't fun. The pavé is nasty and brutal in way that's hard to describe until you've ridden it. I had fat tyres and a nice flexy steel frame and I was still shaken to bits and half petrified about crashing (though got away without punctures). I'm not convinced any change you can make to a road bike will ever make riding it comfortable - a 29-er with slicks might be the answer but that'd be miserable. And if it had been wet - oh my, that'd have been horrid. So guess I'll take some convincing to come back...

As to the race, watching it didn't go as well as the ride. We caught it first at St Python, about the the third section of pavé.

Paris-Roubaix is shit

The break of the day was barely up the road and riders were already dropping off the back of the peloton (a large number of carrots and movistar in the latter category)

Break Some of the peloton Some of the peloton Bleedin' carrot Movistar

We then jumped into our van and tried to make it to the Haveluy sector of cobbles. It was going well until we got to Denain and found we were trapped on the wrong side of the race. Bugger. So we headed into town to watch them fly past on the non-cobbled road. The break came through, then a smaller bunch who - I think had been dropped from the break - then peloton screamed past followed by ones and twos including Cav riding amongst the team cars

The break keeps going Trying to bridge? Or already dropped? Stampede into Denain Proof Cav was there Pain faces

And then they were gone. In our less than speedy transit van we weren't going to catch the race again so we headed to a bar to watch what we could knowing we needed to leave before the end to make our ferry back to the UK.

Overall it was a great weekend. I definitely want to go back and properly watch the race. I might even ride the sportive again. Especially if someone asks me after I've enjoyed some of the supplies I brought back...

Personal consumption only

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