Sunday, 13 June 2010

Surviving the Cobbles - Part 2


Race day, when it arrived was quite a straight forward matter, to the point that I wondered what all the fuss had been about! After we boarded the bus at around 3.30am and our bikes were carefully placed in the trailer we made our way to Bohain-en-Vermandois.

The race HQ was a sports hall in a back street of an unassuming small town. Strangely enough there was no fanfare at all - no banner about the event in the street, no P.A announcements, no music. Just a few volunteers doing the sign-on and handing us route cards, with others serving the teas. It was more like a village scout hut - albeit a rather large one. I had to be shown where the ride actually started. There were no signs!

Jo and I started the ride to minimal ceremony, apart from a couple of photos with a friend of hers. Once on the road, it was a case of just following the painted yellow signs on the ground. In general they were easy to follow, although in some cases the paint had faded and on a couple of occasions we missed the turning. Thankfully other riders around shouted to us if we were going the wrong way.The sight of paintings of people's names on the road showed that we weren't too far off course. It was great to ride the same roads that had been graced by the likes of Thor Hushovd, Tom Boonen, Fabian Cancellara etc. OK so, our exploits were not being televised and there were only a handful of folks cheering us on in the streets, but I still got a sense of doing something historic.

Within 10 miles we were on the first cobbled section at Troisvilles. I immediately concentrated myself on the experience ahead, and reminded myself of what everyone had said. Attack the cobbles in the big ring and ride as hard and as fast as you can. Stay on the apex of the road rather than on the side. Hold the tops of the handlebars lightly. That seemed to work, and my first experience of Roubaix cobbles didn't seem so bad. There were a couple of dicey moments I had to deal with. Firstly, as the bike jolted around all along the cobbles I heard a sharp noise on the bike as something appeared to have hit the frame and dropped on the ground. I shrieked, thinking it was my mobile phone that had dropped out of my pocket! In fact it was the lamp cover on my rear bike light that had fallen off. I wasn't going to bother picking that up, so I just continued.

Suddenly the road went downhill and I had to come to a dead stop to cross a main road before continuing to the next cobbled stretch. Having to brake suddenly led to alot of jarring in my head and neck. There was also a sharp right hand turn that I almost missed and had to swerve round very quickly. I didn't have full control of the bike at that point and almost rode into the ditch! Luckily there weren't many people around. But I survived all of this, and felt that as I hadn't come a cropper over this first 2km stretch I could immediately declare that a success!

The next few stretches were quite similar, except that there was one section at Quievy that was almost 4km long. The terrain was not nominally challenging. It was just gently rolling, but when you have to do that over bumpy roads littered with large erratic stones thrown together with a bit of cement, it aint that easy. I found that I was quite out of breath when riding over these sections. It was partly due to the physically demanding situation, and also a certain nervousness that I hadn't quite overcome. I did my best to stay relaxed by letting my jaw hang open so as to keep my faced relaxed, and also to keep my wrists limp.

Riding over the cobbles definitely jiggles you about. It's not just a jostling bike that you have to deal with, but anything and everything that's slightly loose on your body. I could feel all those loose bits of flab on my dinner lady arms, and my flaccid calf muscles. I was just glad that I had no loose teeth and was wearing a firm bra! It still didn't stop my internal organs shaking. There was something in my chest that was suffering a bit at first, and I was worried I might end up with internal bruising!

In spite of all these thoughts I pressed on and was still intent on enjoying myself, and admiring the views over northern France in the early morning sunshine.

Very soon we were at the first check point/feed station at Solesmes. There wasn't the bun-fight that you sometimes get at popular cyclosportives, so it was very easy to access to the copious amounts of sandwiches, cakes, biscuits, fruits and other refreshments. As we were in the playground of a sports centre there was lots of space to hang around and chat to other people as they arrived. I bumped into John from London Cyclesport at this station, who was in good spirits and really enjoying himself on his bling bike with the electric gears. I didn't have electric gears but I was quite happy with the wheels he'd lent me for the ride. They were bearing up very well!

During that time I began to realise just how many people from Britain were at the event. I saw jerseys from London Phoenix, Kingston Wheelers, Manchester Wheelers and various other cycling clubs. This event is definitely popular with Brits. Given the various languages I heard - German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish it was also popular with people from other countries too!
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