Spring Classics 2015 – A British Great Bows Out Part 2


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Spring Classics 2015 – A British Great Bows Out Part 2

Following on from a triumphant (hah) Tour of Flanders, the second part of the double was Paris-Roubaix. I’d previously ridden it in 2010 and sworn never again but steady nagging by Little Dave (daj) had worn me down and I, foolishly, agreed to ride the 167km version that included all 27 secteurs of pave. Still, it didn’t look all that tough on youtube despite the iconic pictures of cyclists covered in filth with only the whites of their eyes showing – Theo de Rooij might have said “it's a bollocks, this race! You're working like an animal, you don't have time to piss, you wet your pants. You're riding in mud like this, you're slipping ... it’s a pile of shit” but he is Dutch so cannot be taken seriously, particularly when asked whether he’d ride it again he’s replied “sure, it's the most beautiful race in the world!”

Getting Ready
Following the mechanical woes of De Ronde the previous weekend viewtopic.php?f=5&t=322936 I was determined to get my bike sorted out. Obviously I’d be on the same machine as, pedal aside, it had worked flawlessly (ok, I’ll concede that the pedal malfunction was a serious flaw). I therefore cleaned the bike up, even polishing the frame with Pledge to better fight off any mud (and the forecast was for rain). I also visited the LBS who advised me that they’d never heard of pedals have that issue and that they looked fine. This is a shop with much experience and consistently sage advice so, although reassured, I still had a nagging doubt. To assuage this, they loaned me a pair of old Vitus branded Looks, the exact same model. I fitted them to the cranks, added a thin layer of gel under the tape and, crucially, brand new 28c Gatorskins and headed to the pub.

The intervening days saw the same approach – look at bike, have a nap, ride to The Barrels and have three pints of Hereford’s finest (HPA, best beer in the world. Period). I was ready. Ish.

Paris-Roubaix 2015
For the second consecutive Friday, I left the house at 4.30 a.m. I pulled outside Little Dave’s house at 6 a.m. but there appeared to be no signs of life. After sitting for a while and covering a few work e-mails on my phone I figured it was time to rouse the slumbering beast and sent a plaintive but pithy text that, if in a teen horror movie, would have raised goose bumps – “I’m outside”.

Finally loaded up we set off just after 7 for the couple of hours journey to the Tunnel. Imagine my horror to discover that we were on a 12.40 crossing. My abusive muttering continued for several hours, the colour of my language unaffected by the 11 year old child in the car – he was certainly going to be cool in the playground and in trouble in the classroom if he repeated my salty bon mots at school.

This however was all rendered moot (moot mots?) when, during the crossing, I admired my bike. But wait, was that a split in the rear, brand new Gatorskin? Yes, a clean gash with the inner tube peeping shyly through. Bugger succinctly sums it up. It also rather suggests that this preparation lark isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

First stop in France was therefore a Decathlon to look for a suitable tyre. Little Dave (being referred to as Little Pee-Pee by this point) was pointing out all these gossamer road tyres but I’d spotted a sturdily treaded 28c hybrid variant and at 12 euro wasn’t about to be dissuaded. To offset the scoffing, I also purchased a tub although the power of my logic wasn’t sufficient to account for the fact that I was running clinchers.

Having signed on in Roubaix we headed for the hotel which was, inexplicably, an hours drive away. With traffic it took us 4 although to be fair this included a supermarket stop and the eating of gammon steak with our hands in the car park, classly washed down with PET bottled Belgian beer. The French are very friendly though and we had lots of “bon appétit”. Arriving at the hotel at 8.15 I eschewed going out for food as I had the tyre and number to fit plus Little Pee-Pee’s bar tape to sort out. I therefore took on more liquid carbs while toiling in the bathroom (thankfully mechanical as the light in the main room was rather meagre).

Rising before 6 a.m., we breakfasted on cold meat and cheese before a prompt departure. I then thrust my thumb through my shorts while getting ready leaving a gaping hole so had to borrow a pair. To ride 100 miles of Paris-Roubaix. Great. But at least we were just about on schedule. Or would have been if the credit cards proferred worked. Finally, muttering about it being the most widely accepted card in the world, I used mine and we were off just before 8. The drive was to take an hour with the last start at 9 a.m. Oh, and it was raining steadily. Things were going perfectly.

Keeping the faffing to an absolute minimum (i.e. tyres to 110psi and roll, baby) I crossed the start line a mere 15 minutes after the timing mat had been removed and just as they were dismantling the barriers. Little Pee-Pee and Little Pee-Pee’s Mate Phil (LPPMP) followed 5 minutes later. We made decent time on smooth roads until Little Pee-Pee stopped to answer a phone call. The broom wagon was hovering like the Grim Reaper and we were barely 5km in. Oh, and somehow we’d opted for the longest of the courses.

Driving into the 40kph headwind (fortunately it’s a point to point route heading South to North so it would be headwind all day) we entered the first secteur at Troisvilles. Within 100m I remembered why I’d vowed never again to do what Bernard Hinault described memorably as “a race for wankers”. Slithering towards the dirty gutter on a surface as slick as a greasy vole, it was clear that it was going to be a long day unless we succumbed to the comfort of the broom wagon. This looked likely as, after about 800m, Little Pee-Pee punctured and declared that he had no pump. Muttering, with no quarter given to irony, “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” through gritted teeth (the gritty bit would come later), I deployed my mini-pump with all the righteous fury required to stab a rabbit, repeatedly.

The secteurs are numbered in descending order and arriving at the 3.7km long Quievy a Saint-Python secteur 25, a barrier was being placed across the entrance – surely it wasn’t over as soon as it started, blessed relief notwithstanding? Little Pee-Pee was having none of it and muscled through with LPPMP hot on his tail and me in their wake, plaintively.

Something strange was happening. My two companions were following SOP in the big ring and floating. I was also banging it out in the Big Dog but making noticeably slower progress. Obviously I needed to MTFU but to be struggling early was dispiriting. Still, at least we had the longest 3.7km behind us and the company of some number less Dutch freeloaders who mocked us both verbally and physically as they battered merrily past us only to regroup on the road while we rolled on only to repeat shortly afterwards.

Maintaining good humour in the face of adversity is the mark of a gentleman. Approaching the Arenberg Trench after 70k, camper vans festooned with Belgian flags already in place, I was clearly a scoundrel. And a scoundrel reduced to the ignomy of the small ring at that.

The quality of the pave in Paris-Roubaix is hard to describe but Chris Horner had a go - “they plowed a dirt road, flew over it with a helicopter, and then just dropped a bunch of rocks out of the helicopter! That's Paris–Roubaix. It's that bad — it's ridiculous". And it was. Halfway down the Arenberg was an ambulance with paramedics treated a downed rider with oxygen (we later heard that he’d broken his femur) although, impressively, he was calling to be put back on his bike (it was in French so that and the fact that my eardrums were being rattled around may mean there is a touch of sandpapering in this recollection). We slalomed round the ambulance and carried on – how the pros hit this section at 50kph and maintain their speed is absolutely beyond me. Somehow we got to the end and peeled our claw like hands from the bars. This was only secteur 18 and LPPMP had been bleeding freely from this thumb for a couple of hours already. How the hell were we going to survive a further 100km and twice as many secteurs as already completed?

At times like these I like to take advice from the greats. Usually it’s Vanilla Ice although sometimes Nigel Havers. In this case it seemed more fitting to turn to Chris Boardman who said about Paris-Roubaix "it's a circus, and I don't want to be one of the clowns". Actually that didn’t help. But what about Barbara Striesand, she’d know. Yep, the cat eyed songstress had it nailed - it was time to send in the clowns and I was Coco. Or, more likely, Bozo.

I was still struggling with the headwind and small ring but thankfully my cheap hybrid tyre was paying dividends. Little Pee-Pee gradually pulled away – it was surely the slowest breaking of the elastic in history – but LPPMP and I stuck resolutely together. I wasn’t having a great time but LPPMP was pretty fed up with bleeding thumb and swollen knuckle not helped by the back to back Hornaing a Wandignies (secteur 16, 3.7km), Warlaing a Brillon (number 15 and 2.4km) and Tilloy a Sars-et-Rosieres (14, 2.4km) that came with little respite. I was cursing loudly by this stage and resolutely not having fun.

With a full 65k to go we lucked upon our support vehicle at a roundabout and, understandably, LPPMP climbed off and into the welcoming embrace of the leather seats of a Honda CRV. I headed on alone, figuring I’d catch up with Little Pee-Pee when he punctured and I could sail serenely by, taunting him with my pump (not a euphemism).

And then it started to rain. Hard. With the wind that hadn’t abated, this soon soaked me to the core. It also made the cobbles very slippery and the thin strip of mud at the side, often not much wider than a tyre when it existed at all, much too great a gamble. Fortunately this coincided with the 4-star, 2.6km Auchy a Bersee and 5-star Mons-en-Pevele. When I said that I was not having fun earlier I misspoke like a politician in the run up to an election – it was now that I really was not having fun. After an hour or so the rain abated although the cobbles continued to glisten in a way that I’d have previously described as invocative of the romance of the event but now thought of as &**$£**

Thankfully it wasn’t too long to the food stop at Templeuve where I could restore my body with waffles (I was bored of them but any port etc) and my squeaking, hooking up, gritty chain with a squirt of oil. There was also an annoying rubbing which I put down to a slightly buckled 25 year old rear wheel and opened up the caliper q/r a touch. The rubbing continued but I couldn’t be bothered to sort it out – with only 33k to go the finish was tantalisingly close.

On I powered (editorializing again as I remained resolutely, disgracefully, in the small ring). My spirits were high but were lifted notably when I met one of my fiends from the previous weekend on the Bourhelles a Wannehain section – he’d ridden also but was long finished and resting up in his camper, beer in hand. We chatted for 10 minutes or so and then with a cheery “I’d love to linger but I’ve a Spring Classic to finish” I headed on my way.

The final sections weren’t too bad – I was a proud advocate of the dirty gutter by this stage – and I was soon rubbing my way through the streets of Roubaix. Very disappointingly, although it was only 6.20 p.m. and broad daylight, the outdoor velodrome had been shut so I couldn’t complete a circuit of the legendary track. Never mind, I had done so in 2010 but it seemed rather mean spirited of the organisers to deny this after 100 miles of toil.

I dismounted back at the car and looked at my bike – not a mechanical in sight and the hybrid tyre, despite the tread looking quite worn, had held up admirably. Preparation indeed although I did chuckle wryly the next day when the pros enjoyed bright sunshine, dusty cobbles and, as if the need it, a constant tailwind.

And that’s it, two Monuments knocked off in consecutive weekends as easily as Tom (Boonen) chases Jerry (and about as successfully). Rain, 100 miles of headwind, a faulty pedal, a gashed tyre, nothing could stop the inexorable progress. Spring Classics? Piece of cake (although if I don’t see another waffle for a while that would be good).

Except there is a sting in the tail (no, not caused by the borrowed shorts, they were great). On returning home and having cleaned the thick grit off my bike, I thought a quick spin into town to return the pedals was in order (and maybe a revitalizing pint of HPA in the sunshine). I set off but the nagging rubbing was still there. I pulled up on the verge. The rim wasn’t touching the blocks nor the tyre the stays but it was definitely at the rear wheel. Perplexing. Then, the light bulb moment. I checked the underside of the caliper and yes, the proud profile of the hybid tyre was causing it to interfere with the bottom of the caliper. I let out some air, the profile lowered and the rubbing was gone. It also explained the worn tread. In my 110psi enthusiasm to avoid pinch punctures I’d ridden 100 miles of The Queen of the Classics effectively with my rear brake partly engaged. I think I called myself a twit but with my eardrums still not back to normal two days after the Arenberg I can’t be sure.

So, would I recommend Paris-Roubaix to anyone? Yes, definitely an event to ride once but don't be taken in by how smooth it looks on tv or how easy the pros make it. But if anyone suggests that you do it again, sagely shake you head and walk on. Unless you are a complete twit that is.

Brilliant! I have to say that I never had any intention of doing the cobbled Classics...and reading you post has merrily confirmed that intent.
Was good to see you there Ed (be it briefly) at least Sunday was allot better weather, the muddy pavè had been replaced with dusty pavè.
As ever, there is much to learn from the master of ineptitude's cyclical tales... a fitting tournée d'adieu.
mrkawasaki":6kydu5lh said:
As ever, there is much to learn from the master of ineptitude's cyclical tales... a fitting tournée d'adieu.

The blueprint was established at De Ronde in 2012 and although I'm far too modest to claim all the credit, I will if you insist. Looking forward to establishing the mindset and re-entering the vortex with the RetroRonde next month......